By Nick Beversdorf
If you want to talk about one of the greatest comebacks in Merrill volleyball history, look no further than what happened at Rice Lake this past Saturday.
In a spectacular display of fortitude and determination, Merrill volleyball defeated Bloomer in five hard-fought sets, taking the win and Sectional Championship crown. The win also allowed the girls to punch their tickets to the State Semifinals in Green Bay, but more on that later.
The first two sets proved to be very frustrating for Merrill, losing 25-23 and 25-22. Early on in both sets Merrill had sizable leads but Bloomer slowly started to close the gap, eventually tying both sets and taking a lead after the 20-point mark to win both sets.
In an 0-2 trailing situation, the odds seemed stacked against Merrill, but that did not deter the lady Jays in any way. Victory was still entirely possible, and they took advantage of the next three sets beautifully.
In a change of pace for the match, Merrill took an early lead in set three and kept it. Merrill averaged a five-point lead for most of the match, widening it to seven at the end of the set, 25-18. They started to respond to Bloomer’s serves and attacks and simultaneously started to exploit holes in their defense. Set four saw pretty much the same formula play out, but with a larger spread of 25-16.
At a 2-2 tie, the match went into the 15-point, winner-take-all fifth set. With a state trip riding on the line (or net), both teams saddled up to face each other one last time. What followed was arguably Merrill’s best performance yet, as they defeated Bloomer 15-10 in the fifth set to take the victory. Merrill again took an early lead and even though Bloomer was able to tie the set halfway through, Merrill re-took the lead and held it to a five-point advantage. .
“We were in both sets one and two, but gave up 4-5 points to be down 2-0 going into the third set,” comments head coach Kristi Krug. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to come back after losing the first two sets. In the huddle going into set three, we decided if we take this one, we’d take it all!”
There were spectacular performances all around, especially going into set three and beyond. Hitting was led by Katie Zelinski with 21 kills and four errors out of 39 attempts and Morgan Wardall with 17 kills and six errors out of 42 attempts.
Other hitters included Megan Schroder with eight kills out of 16 attempts, error-free, Kelsie Belfiori with seven kills and three errors out of 18 attempts, Maddix Bonnell with four kills and two errors out of 18 attempts, Elizabeth Iribarren with two kills out of five attempts, error-free, Lindsey Casper with two kills and an error out of 12 attempts and Kaylee Bowe with a kill and an error out of eight attempts.
Belfiori was the night’s top server, nailing four aces out of 22 attempts with two errors. Wardall and Bonnell also each had an ace and two errors out of 22 and 21 attempts, respectively.
Taylor Cichy led passing with 14 perfect, 29 good, nine okay and seven incomplete. Bonnell had 10 perfect, 17 good, eight okay and one incomplete; and Belfiori had four perfect, 13 good, seven okay and two incomplete. Cichy had 26 digs and Casper and 36 set assists.
“The hardest team to beat is a team that never gives up and that was just what our team did – never gave up!” adds Krug. “I can say something about each girl tonight as it was again a team effort, but Megan Schroder had a great night with eight kills that all seemed to be at crucial times.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team and it truly was the greatest come back in Merrill Volleyball history!”
Merrill volleyball will travel to the Resch Center in Green Bay to face Catholic Memorial on Friday at 4 p.m. in the Division 2 State Semifinal. If they win, they will face the winner of the Notre Dame-Lakeside Lutheran match in the Championship round on Saturday at 2 p.m.
This is the third State appearance for Merrill volleyball in recent years, having made it to State in 2012 (1-1) and 2014 (0-1). During those times Merrill volleyball was still in Division 1.
For more information on travel, parking and broadcasting for the State Finals, visit https://www.wiaawi.org/Sports/GirlsVolleyball.aspx.
For full match stats, click here.
Good luck Bluejays!