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Panthers lock up share of MBC title

Senior Night and Homecoming week added to the emotion for the St. Croix Central volleyball team last Tuesday.

And there was already heaps of emotion as the Panthers were aiming to lock up a share of the Middle Border Conference championship for the very first time.

There were some anxious moments, but the Panthers managed to gain their composure and defeat Prescott 25-12, 24-26, 25-22, 25-20. The win increases the Panthers' record to 6-0 and gives them a share of their first MBC title. The Panthers were scheduled to play at Somerset this Tuesday, where a win would give Central the outright conference championship.

The Panthers are now waiting for the WIAA Division 2 tournament season to begin. Seeding for the sectional is slated to be completed Wednesday night. There are 14 teams in the sectional. In past seasons, the sectional was divided into two regionals, but this year the WIAA has changed plans, going with all the teams in a sectional to be seeded together. Geographically, this is a huge sectional, including teams ranging from Ashland to Ellsworth to Altoona.

Central coach Mindy Widiker said she was hoping the Panthers would receive one of the top seeds in the bracket, admitting that it's difficult to know everything about teams from such a broad area. She said she knew teams like Bloomer and Rice Lake are teams from the sectional bracket that have performed well this season.

The Panthers kept their undefeated season intact with their homecourt win against Prescott last Tuesday. Widiker said the match had more ups and downs than a typical Panther match. She said there was an excellent video presentation for the seniors, but they had to change their mindsets quickly.

"They were crying one minute (about the video tribute) and they were on the court the next minute," Widiker said.

This wasn't the Panthers' best night in terms of errors, particularly in serve reception and serving. The Panthers made 12 errors on returning serves and they were off target with eight of their own serves.

"We had a couple players with off nights passing," Widiker said.

Having a deep bench was a saving grace. Widiker called on senior Brittani Hunter to step in to shore up the defense.

"Brittani came in and saved the day, on serve receive and defense. She had some really nice digs," Widiker said.

These are two teams that possess excellent hitters. The Panthers were able to put away more of their hits. Senior Katie Koerper finished with 23 kills and junior Abbie Widiker scored with 22 kills. Katherine Cottrell came through with four solo blocks. Mary Buckel led the defense with 18 digs.

While the Panthers had eight service errors, they also had 10 ace serves. Widiker, Koerper and Kalli Cress each finished with three kills.

It was a fitting home-court sendoff for the Panther seniors, which includes Hunter, Koerper, Cress and Ciera Kraus.

"They're hard workers, a great bunch of girls," Widiker said of her seniors.

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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