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New Richmond volleyball earns first Middle Border Conference win

New Richmond middle hitter Emily Kukacka awaits a set during the New Richmond Invitational Tournament on Saturday

It's taken longer to come together than the New Richmond volleyball team had hoped, but the Tigers appear to be moving in the right direction.

The Tigers earned their first Middle Border Conference victory of the season last Tuesday, scoring a three-game win at Amery. The Tigers followed up that effort by winning two of their four matches in the nine-team New Richmond Invitational on Saturday.

Closing out games has been a challenge for the Tigers this season. At Amery they showed the ability to finish off close matches. The Tigers led for much of the opening game by 6-8 points before Amery made a late surge. The Tigers fought off that charge to win 25-20.

The second game was even more of a challenge. The Tigers trailed 24-19 before the Tigers put the ball in the hands of sophomore Kate Johnson. Johnson served the final six points as the Tigers pulled out an uplifting 26-24 win.

"That's a character builder, to win a game like that," said Tiger coach Bob Fisher.

Losing the two close games took the steam out of Amery, which dropped the final game to the Tigers 25-12.

Improved fundamentals helped the Tigers overcome Amery. Fisher said this was the Tigers' most consistent serving match of the season. He said the passing from Sarena Shilts, Tiffany Olek, Maddie Krumm and Cassie Martie was also a key factor in the team playing more effectively.

That sharper play carried into Saturday's tournament. The tournament featured one of the strongest fields of teams of any major event in the area this year. The nine teams were all high quality. It was Clayton, the smallest school of the nine, that went undefeated in its four matches on Saturday.

The Tigers went 2-2 for the day. New Richmond was put in a challenging pool with Barron and Altoona. The Tigers lost to Altoona 25-19, 25-10. They put up a battle against Barron, falling 25-22, 25-20.

The morning results put the Tigers in the Bronze Division for afternoon play against Baldwin-Woodville and Northwestern. The Tigers were able to score a 26-24, 25-20 win over B-W. The Tigers were hoping that would be an omen of good things, with a dual meet schedule at Baldwin on Thursday.

The Tigers finished the day with a close battle against Northwestern. The Tigers won the opening game 25-23, but Northwestern responded with a win by the same score. New Richmond took control quickly in the third game to win 15-5.

"I was encouraged by our play," Fisher said of the tournament. "We found a rhythm and flow against tougher teams like Barron and Altoona."

Serving was again a strength for the Tigers, with senior Rylee Rasmussen sparking the team in the afternoon with effective serves. Fisher said the setting done by Johnson and Abby Blader was promising, but said the team's hitting attack was still "hit and miss."

The Tigers have two dual matches left in their season and both will be played next week. On Tuesday the Tigers will host Durand and they end their regular season with a match against Osceola two nights later.