Bluejay spikers capture 5-of-6 in home bonanza
The Bluejay volleyball girls may not have played up to their potential in the past week, but their performance still resulted in a 3-1 win over Antigo in Thursday’s home opener, and a runner-up finish in Saturday’s six-team, round-robin Merrill Invite.
The Jays nearly took first place, losing 26-24 and 27-25 to eventual champ Chippewa Falls in the third round.
“With Chippewa we were right there,” MHS coach Kris Albrecht stated. “They were a good team. I thought we played pretty decent, but it seemed we weren’t really clicking. We had a hard time getting the ball to Renee (Sladek) and Lauren (Hojan).
“Our passing was a little off. Both setters (Reegan Byer and Emily Page) were working hard to turn it into a good play.”
Merrill defeated Rice Lake (25-21, 25-21) and Athens (25-22, 14-25, 15-9) in the opening rounds, then followed the Falls’ loss with wins over Edgar (25-21, 25-12) and Wittenberg (25-22, 25-23).
“Toward the end of the day, I felt we were struggling for every point,” Albrecht said. “Edgar and Wittenberg were really scrappy. All the teams we were playing had good defense. They seemed to be picking up everything we hit at them.”
The Bluejays welcomed the return of Sladek-a two-time All Valley First Team unanimous selection-to her first action in any sport since her major knee injury in basketball last December. The original plan was for her to play just a couple of matches, but she played throughout the day and was named to the All-Tournament team.
“Working Renee into our line-up we might have been a little confused because of the changes,” Albrecht said. “We needed her for the first three matches for sure. We were going to substitute her out, but the games were so close and she wanted to stay in.
“She’s anxious to get back in the middle. We had her outside, so she wouldn’t have to move quickly in both directions.”
Albrecht noticed one other pro and con.
“Our serving was better,” she said. “We were serving more aggressively.
Communication is a key for us. We don’t talk enough. It’s something we need to work on.”
Production came from: Sladek (45 kills, 7 aces, 6 blocks, 25 digs); Hojan (19 k, 8 assists, 13 bl, 4 d); Byer (56 as, 8 ac, 19 d); Katie Zuelsdorff (10 k, 8 ac, 3 bl, 38 d); Morgan Marnholtz (55 d); Page (5 k, 36 as, 7 d); Aubrey Wardall (13 k, 10 bl, 6 d); Rylee Folz (17 k, 9 bl); Ali Zamzow (3 ac, 18 d); and Anna Finnell (7 k, 4 bl, 5 d);
Despite numerous errors, Merrill still had an excellent chance to win Game 1 of the Antigo match with a 24-20 lead, but they lost 26-24. It seemed to light a temporary fire, and they breezed to a 25-8 triumph in the second game.
The Red Robins bounced back from a 16-4 deficit but still dropped Game 3 25-21, then Merrill collected a tightly fought Game 4 by a 25-23 margin.
“It was our first home game and the girls were excited, but we were just tentative,” Albrecht said. “Again the communication was a problem, trying to figure out who was getting the ball.
“Lauren had 18 kills and she was only blocked once, so she was putting the ball down.”
Offerings came from: Byer (26 as, 9 d); Hojan (18 k, 4 bl, 3 d); Zuelsdorff (8 k, 11 d); Page (11 as, 8 d); Marnholtz (18 d); Folz (8 k, 5 bl, 3 d); Finnell (10 k, 4 d); Wardall (4 k, 4 bl, 3 d); and Zamzow (9 d).
The Bluejays are 15-4 on the season.