Jays lock down Valley title with East triumph
A four-set triumph over Wausau East sealed up a second-consecutive WVC title for the Merrill volleyball team on Thursday.
The Jays, an Honorable Mention team in the state coaches’ poll, started slow but finished strong while chopping down the Lumberjacks in the MHS Fieldhouse.
“It was a bit anti-climactic, but a win is a win,” MHS coach Steph Nelson said. “The first game was UGLY. We deserved to lose it because we weren’t playing the simple way of the game. The second and third games were a little better, but we still were on a roller coaster ride of play; have three huge defensive plays with three huge kills, then suddenly East got an ace on us, then blocked us.
“The fourth game, was the Merrill volleyball that I know and love. Our defense and blocking was great, our serving was smart and aggressive, and offensively we moved the ball around and were aggressive there as well.”
The Jays stumbled 27-25 in the opening game, then rebounded with 25-17, 25-18 and 25-12 sets.
“Overall, it wasn’t our best showing, but we won conference for the second year in a row finishing at 11-1 again, 34-3 during the regular season,” Nelson said. “That’s impressive no matter how pretty the wins are. We have the #2 seed for regionals, so that means we play (15 seed) West at home on Thursday night. With this one we are looking to come out strong, gain some confidence back, work on some of our kinks and hopefully get us ready for the next big game on Saturday.”
If MHS wins Thursday, it would host the survivor of Thursday’s Wausau East/D.C.Everest match at 7 p.m. on Saturday. East is the 7-seed and D.C.E. is 10th. Marshfield received the #1 seed in the regional, despite Merrill’s conference-clinching win over the Tigers on Oct. 4. The Tigers edged the Jays back on Sept. 15, but Marshfield opened the Valley championship door for Merrill with second WVC loss to SPASH on Sept. 27.
Conference clinching performances came from: Renee Sladek (19 kills, 5 blocks, 12 digs); Lyndsey Krueger (3 k, 32 assists, 9 d); Bri Piepenbrok (4 ac, 21 d); Lauren Hojan (6 k, 4 d) Reegan Byer (3 bl, 7 d); Wardall (4 k, 4 bl); Zamzow (11 d); Casey Steffen (7 k); and JoJo Catlin (3 k, 3 d).
Merrill improved to 34-3 overall, and 11-1 in the Valley, while Marshfield ended up 10-2 in conference.