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New Richmond volleyball makes loud opening statement in MBC

New Richmond middle hitter Emily Kukacka (14) and her teammates celebrate a successful point in the team’s win over Prescott last Thursday.

It’s hard to imagine the New Richmond volleyball team playing better than it did in the opening two games of its Middle Border Conference season on Thursday.

The Tigers jumped out to double-digit leads early in both of those games against Prescott, winning both games 25-12.

In the third game the Tigers’ synchronized play suddenly lost its rhythm and Prescott was able to claw back to win 26-24. The Tigers took another quick lead in the fourth game and closed out the team victory with a 25-18 win.

In the first two games the Tigers were flawless in their play. Leah Blader was the Tigers’ opening server and she gave the team eight-point leads in both games before Prescott could get the serve back.

The rest of the Tigers’ attack was like a domino effect. The Tiger blockers clearly impacted Prescott’s hitting, forcing the Cardinals to send more soft hits over the net. Those soft hits made the job easier for the Tiger passers, who were supplying accurate passes to the sets. The setters were able to plant their feet and supply consistent sets and the Tiger hitters used that steady supply of ammo to pick apart the Prescott defense.

“When everyone does their job correctly, it is a well-oiled machine,” said Tiger coach Missi Whittington. 

Whittington said one of the best decisions she and assistant coach Al Getschel made this season was having Leah Blader as the team’s initial server in each game. Blader had incredible serving success Thursday, especially at the start of each game.

“Leah is unshakeable. You put her in any pressure situation and she handles it,” Whittington said.

The entire team served well, with two misses in the four games.

The middle blocking attack, led by senior Emily Kukacka, took away most of Prescott’s hitting game. The Tigers’ passing, led by the trio of Sarena Shilts, Maddie Krumm and Serena Randolph, was accurate with a high percentage of passes. Whittington said the Tigers made changes in their passing, looking to get their passes closer to the net. This makes it easier for the Tigers to run their quick-hit attack to their middle hitters.

In the third game the Tigers started well, but the setters and hitters lost their timing early in the game. With the variety of hits used in the Tiger attack, timing is essential. Prescott built a substantial lead in the third game, but the Tigers fought back to make it close.

The Tigers started well in the fourth game and maintained the lead throughout.

The win over Prescott was redemption for the Tigers. Two nights earlier, the Tigers lost their home opener against Menomonie in three close games.

“We had so many jitters, everything imploded,” Whittington said. She did say she was encouraged the Tigers could stay competitive when the team was struggling in so many aspects of its game.

The Tigers have two more home matches scheduled for the upcoming days. They will host Ellsworth on Thursday and Amery next Tuesday. In between, the Tigers will play in a tournament at Park of Cottage Grove, Minn., on Saturday.

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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