Bluejays, Hatchets bring their game to UW-Whitewater stage
Two of the top volleyball teams in Northern Wisconsin proved once again that their reach is bigger than that.
Merrill and Tomahawk have big plans after both teams reached the semifinal level of the state tournament-in D1 and D2 respectively-last year and return much of their teams intact.
Both squads lost just once on the day, winning all their pool matches. The 6-1 Bluejays wrapped up a second-place finish in Wednesday’s 15-team UW-Whitewater Invite with a 25-19, 24-26, 15-12 thriller over the 5-1 Hatchets, dropping them into a very respectable third.
The MHS girls narrowly lost the championship match to Union Grove-a team that Tomahawk defeated in pool play-in a thrilling 26-24, 25-22 bout.
“The strong senior leadership and team chemistry proved to be huge assets for us today,” MHS coach Kris Albrecht stated. “For a first outing, I was very pleased. The girls worked well as a team. We’re improving and we’re going to keep getting better by fine-tuning. We’ve got to work on having a stronger defense.
“I think we have a real good base set for our team, but you never know what you have until you get against competitive teams. It helps to get against some of these good teams from the south. It sets a standard for you.”
The Merrill/Tomahawk match renewed a friendly rivalry.
“It’s fun playing against a team like that,” Albrecht said. “It really tests your skills. Our girls need to be on top of their game when they play Tomahawk. That was late in the day and it was hot. Our stamina is certainly not where we want it to be, but it was a good test.”
THS coach Amanda Charles concurred. “I thought we had a pretty good day,” she said. “It was very hot, but the girls played tough. We had a couple matches where we should have taken better care of our side of the net. But overall, I was pleased with their level of play.
“Anna was named the MVP of the entire tournament as she played very well today. We played some tough competition and now we know what we need to work on in upcoming practices to prepare for next week. I think our serve-receive passing was solid all day, as well as serving. Our blocking could use some work, so we will be focusing on that this week.”
The Bluejays opened with wins over Waterloo (25-23, 13-25, 15-11), Oak Creek (25-16, 25-18), Whitewater (25-11, 25-10) and Waterford (25-11, 25-19) in pool play, and knocked off defending D4 state champ Catholic Central (22-25, 25-15, 15-7) in the quarterfinals. After defeating Tomahawk, the Jays fell to Union Grove.
In pool play, the Hatchets bested Lakeside Lutheran (13-25, 25-15, 16-14), Beloit Memorial (25-16, 25-13), Union Grove (25-13, 20-25, 15-0) and Bradford (25-17, 26-24).
They battled with LaFollette (26-24, 17-25, 17-15) in the quarters before losing to Merrill.
Merrill offerings came from: Reegan Byer (16 kills, 63 assists, 10 aces, 33 digs); Katie Zuelsdorff (36 k, 11 ac, 3 blocks, 68 d); Lauren Hojan (37 k, 23 as, 5 bl, 7 d); Emily Page (4 k, 47 as, 5 ac, 20 d); Aubrey Waerdall (25 k, 4 ac, 12 bl, 12 d); Anna Finnell (41 k, 2 bl, 9 d); Morgan Marnholtz (3 ac, 82 d); Ali Zamzow (2 ac, 41 d); Mariah Turenne (10 k, 4 as, 2 bl, 9 d); Rylee Folz (16 k, 5 bl, 3 d); Hannah Marrier (3 d).
“Reegan really stepped up as a leader,” Albrecht said. “She and Katie Zuelsdorff have good court sense and they get the job done.
“Anna Finnell started slow but she really picked it up throughout the day. She’s only going to get better with more reps. Lauren puts ball right down. We’ve got to get that ball to her more often.”
Tomahawk contributions came from: Anna Nyberg (77 k, 10 bl, 36 d); Becca Doughty (13 k, 4 ac, 128 as, 2 bl, 44 d); Alex Duplayee (21 k, 5 ac, 5 as, 1 bl, 44 d); Hannah Meyer (31 k, 6 ac, 5 as, 6 bl, 33 d); Amanda Schneider (6 ac, 2 as, 44 d); Emily Schneider (8 k, 11 ac, 3 as, 14 bl, 2 d); Hannah Doughty (21 k, 6 bl); Maddie Garrison (2 as, 18 d); and Hannah Feest (5 d).
Nyberg and Byer were named to the all-tourney team, with Nyberg selected as the MVP.
The Jays rose to the occasion of playing without two-time unanimous First Team All-Valley player Renee Sladek, who isn’t quite back from the knee injury she suffered during basketball last December.
“She’s been practicing,” Albrecht said. “She’s looking and feeling pretty good. We’re just waiting for her to be 100%. If we can get her back in the middle of September, by our conference tournament, it obviously would be an advantage for us.”