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Volleyball: Perfect Panthers improve to 20-0

St. Croix Central's Claire Frankiewicz (20) sends this hit attempt across the net during the Panthers' battle with Ellsworth on Sept. 14. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia

Unsinkable and unbeatable.

Through the first several weeks of the 2017 season, the St. Croix Central volleyball team has been both.

The Panthers improved to 20-0 with five victories last week. The most important came on Central's home court last Thursday when they faced Ellsworth in the Middle Border Conference opener for both teams.

Central won the match 25-17, 25-16, 25-19. The win came easier than most Central players and fans could have imagined, considering this was a matchup between two of the teams pegged to be top contenders for the MBC championship this season. Among those surprised was Central coach Mindy Widiker.

"I wasn't expecting to beat them in three by any means," Widiker said. "It was our night."

Hitting gets the majority of the attention in volleyball matches, but successful teams win with passing. And Central's passing on Thursday was as close to flawless as you're likely to see. The Panthers only had four serve receiving errors. Widiker said that resulted in her team running in its system comfortably and consistently, while not allowing Ellsworth to build any continuity in running its systems.

The balance in Central's hitting attack proved important in this match. Ellsworth made a point of blocking against Central senior Katie Koerper and they blocked her first three attempts. So the Central setters sent their sets in other directions and the Panthers were able to keep the attack humming.

Abbie Widiker led the team with 16 kills and Koerper produced 11 kills. Katherine Cottrell and Ciera Kraus combined for nine kills. Setters Kalli Cress and Karlee Martinez both had 17 assists. Kraus and Claire Frankiewicz both had three successful blocks.

The Panther defense produced a number of digs. Mary Buckel picked up 12 and Widiker 10 to lead an excellent defensive effort.

Last Tuesday, Central faced another team of Panthers, this time from Durand. Central won this convincingly, 25-17, 25-4, 25-23. The hitting stood out, with Koerper and Widiker combining for 32 kills. Koerper also had six ace serves. Cress led the team with 22 assists.

On Saturday the Panthers won the championship in a tournament at Baldwin-Woodville. They earned wins against La Crosse Central, Barron and Turtle Lake. They didn't have any trouble with La Crosse or Turtle Lake, but the skilled team from Barron gave the Panthers a full battle. Central won the opening set 25-18, but Barron came back to get the second set, 25-22. The final set was a challenge, but Central emerged with a 25-22 win.

Koerper had 36 kills in the tournament and Widiker produced 35. Despite having several girls not feeling well, the Panthers found a way to keep their unbeaten season intact.

The next two Panther matches will be on their home court, a place they haven't seen much this season. They will host Baldwin-Woodville this Thursday and Amery next Tuesday.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.

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