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New Richmond volleyball continues to overpower opponents

New Richmond senior Caelin Giese sends a blistering hit across the net for a kill in last Tuesday’s match at Somerset. 1 / 2
New Richmond setter Kate Johnston tracks down a Somerset hit and returns it toward the net during last Tuesday’s match. 2 / 2

The overpowering way in which the New Richmond volleyball team attacks its opponents is beginning to impact how its opposition is playing.

The case in point is New Richmond’s match against Ellsworth last Thursday. When the two teams met in a Middle Border Conference quad match a few weeks earlier, Ellsworth took one of the three games and gave the Tigers a battle in the other two.

This time around, the Tigers set the tone for the match early on and carried it through for a 25-17, 25-10, 25-18 victory.

Ellsworth took an 8-4 lead in the opening game of the night. Tiger coach Missi Whittington called a timeout, trying to get the girls to relax and play their brand of volleyball.

“It was game-on after that,” Whittington said. “That’s the way we want to be in the conference.”

The blocking done by the Tigers caused Ellsworth to back off its net attack and settle for bumping the ball over the net, out of the reach of the Tiger blockers. That created easier shots to handle for the Tigers, which in turn produced better hitting opportunities.

The hitting attack was led by middle hitters Emily Kukacka and Caelin Giese, but the Tiger attack is becoming more balanced with each match. With the middle hitters hitting with such productivity, it has caused opponents to shift their blocking patterns more toward the middle of the court. That has opened up more chances for the Tigers’ outside hitters and they have produced. Ali Hammer and Alicia Brugler seem to be recording more kills in every match the Tigers play.

“Whenever the ball goes out (to the outside hitters), good things will happen,” Whittington said.

The Tigers got a good test when they went to Somerset last Tuesday and earned a 25-13, 25-21, 25-19 win. Both teams had large, loud crowds supporting them. Whittington said she’s never been in a situation as a player or coach where that volume was produced for a team, especially with the crowd so close to the benches in Somerset.

The Tigers were scalding hot in the opening game at Somerset. But they got tested in the second game, which Somerset led most of the way. The Tigers showed their mettle with a strong finish. The third game was competitive throughout, with the Tigers maintaining their lead in the end.

Whittington said that match was an excellent reminder for the girls on the need to control their emotions, whether it’s against a rival or in a match with great importance.

Somerset was held to a low number of kills because of the efficiency of the Tiger court coverage. Whittington said the progress of the defense is important in what the Tigers want to achieve this season.

“Our passing has come along so well,” she said.

On Saturday the Tigers played in a tournament at Park of Cottage Grove, Minn. Facing a deeply talented tournament lineup, the Tigers placed sixth out of 11 teams.

The Tigers started the tournament by defeating Robbinsdale Cooper 25-12, 25-10. The marquee match of the day was in the second round, when the Tigers faced undefeated St. Croix Lutheran, which finished sixth in the Minnesota state tournament last year. New Richmond had several hitting errors that were costly in a 25-9 opening game loss. The second game was a classic. The teams battled ferociously, with the score tied at 21-21. St. Croix Lutheran scored the final four points to win 25-21.

“It was pounding, blocking, digging like crazy,” said Tiger assistant coach Al Getschel. “Game 2 was phenomenal, a whole new level for them this year.”

In the third round, the Tigers controlled the action in a 25-20, 25-17 win over St. Paul Central.

The Tigers faced a top quality St. Paul Academy team in the final round. The Tigers won the opening game 25-23 and led 22-19 in the second game. The Tigers then lost their focus for a moment and that’s all it took. SPA won the second game 25-22 and the third 15-12.

“It was a lesson for them. They have to finish strong,” Getschel said.

The ability to control their emotions will be critical for the Tigers this Thursday, when they play one of the team’s most important matches in several years. The Tigers play at Osceola on Thursday, with both teams currently undefeated in Middle Border Conference action.

The Tigers will also host their annual 12-team invitational on Saturday. The high school tournament will be played at the New Richmond High School gym, while the junior varsity tournament will be split between the New Richmond Middle School gym and Hillside Elementary gym. The tournaments are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The Tiger varsity team will be in a pool with Altoona and Barron for the morning session of the tournament.

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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