By Nick Beversdorf
In one of the most intense games to date, Merrill volleyball defeated Medford on Saturday night to take the regional championship crown. At times, it was a match filled with great success; at other times, it was a match fraught with frustration. In the end, the lady Jays did what they do best and overcame everything thrown (or spiked) at them.
Merrill volleyball defeated Medford 3-2 in an intense five-set match. Things got off to a slow start for Merrill, losing the first set 25-20. Merrill had no problem sending attacks over the net, but even the most fierce attacks were met by Medford not only managing them, but successfully recovering the attacks and spinning them into an attack of their own that usually resulted in a kill.
Merrill soon got into their groove and won the next two sets, 25-19 each. Well-placed attacks and improved serving contributed to Merrill gaining the upper hand during the two sets. Set four saw a complete reversal, with Medford handily defeating Merrill 25-13. Set four was the most intense set for Medford, as they were absolutely slamming everything over the net.
At 2-2, the match went into the fifth set, and both teams went shot for shot for the first five points, neither teams getting an appreciable upper hand over the other. However, Merrill soon started to pull ahead. Medford lost their mojo while Merrill took advantage of it and they started to hammer them down. Medford’s attempts at blocking also started to fall apart, with many of their “blocks” instead sending the ball out of the court. Merrill won the final set 15-9 to win the match.
It was a terrific all-around effort from the team as five sets with some impressively long rallies forced every last ounce of determination out of the lady Jays. Katie Zelinski led hitting with 16 kills and six errors out of 56 attempts. Other top hitters included Morgan Wardall with 12 kills and six errors out of 43 attempts and Kelsie Belfiori with 10 kills and three errors out of 22 attempts.
Maddix Bonnell had seven kills and three errors out of 37 attempts, Megan Schroder had three kills and four errors out of 16 attempts, Elizabeth Iribarren had three kills and three errors out of 10 attempts, Lindsey Casper had three kills and two errors out of 10 attempts and Kaylee Bowe had three kills and one error out of 14 attempts.
Serving was mostly the same as the Northland Pines game, low errors but low aces as well. Bonnell led serving with five aces out of 29 attempts, error-free. Other servers included Belfiori with an ace and and error out of 24 attempts, Wardall with one ace and two errors out of 12 attempts and Casper with 14 attempts.
Taylor Cichy, Belfiori, and Bonnell all did a great job passing during the match. Cichy had nine perfect, 29 good, six okay and four incomplete. Bonnell had eight perfect, 31 good, three okay and five incomplete and Belfiori had nine perfect, eight good, five okay and one incomplete.
“I am ecstatic about the outcome of tonight’s match,” comments head coach Kristi Krug. “Medford had eight seniors who came to play and play they did. In the end, the match could have gone either way as it is always a challenge to keep the intensity level high.
“Now it’s back to work as we move into the next level of play!”
With this win, Merrill volleyball will face West Salem at the sectional semifinals on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Mosinee. If Merrill wins, they will face the winner of the Osceola-Bloomer match on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at Rice Lake.
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