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New Richmond volleyball finishes the job, keeps title hopes alive

Tiger senior Ali Hammer (15) goes up for a hit attempt during the five-game win over Baldwin-Woodville last Tuesday. 1 / 2
New Richmond outside hitter Alicia Brugler (5) drives a hit over the net in the Tigers' five-game win over Baldwin-Woodville.2 / 2

This time, the New Richmond volleyball team was prepared for the pressure of a fifth game.

When Baldwin-Woodville surged back to push the Tigers to a fifth game last Tuesday, the Tigers were ready. The Tigers took quick and complete control to win the fifth game 15-4. In the process, the Tigers game B-W its first Middle Border Conference loss of the season. It also kept the Tigers’ hopes alive of winning a share of the MBC title. If B-W was able to defeat Osceola this Tuesday and New Richmond won at Amery, it would create a three-way tie for the MBC championship among New Richmond, Osceola and Baldwin-Woodville.

The Tigers played like a conference championship team in the first two games against B-W. This was the final regular season home match for the Tigers and they were clearly inspired at the start of the Senior Night match. The Tigers were strong in winning the opening game 25-21. They were purely dominant in the second game, using a suffocating blocking effort to beat the Blackhawks 25-14.

In the third game the Tigers didn’t play badly, but they didn’t show the fierce edge they displayed in the opening game. B-W was able to take advantage, winning 25-23.

The fourth game was bare-knuckled powerhouse volleyball. Both teams were pounding the ball with all their might and neither team could hang onto the serve for long. The game stretched on and on, with B-W finally winning 29-27.

The loss didn’t shatter the Tigers. They came back with even more intensity in the fifth game. After losing at Osceola in a fifth game, the Tigers knew they had to start fast. They did and they never let B-W get any control in the game.

“It was huge,” Tiger coach Missi Whittington said of the fifth game performance. “We’ve been working on our finish game because of what happened at Osceola.”

When the Tigers were at their best against B-W, it was led by the team’s formidable blocking. Senior middles Emily Kukacka and Caelin Giese both recorded numerous block kills. They were at their best in the second game.

“(Baldwin-Woodville) had nowhere to hit. We got into their heads. That’s what we rely on because we have such a force in the middle,” Whittington said.

The Tigers have grown more reliant on their outside hitters. Whittington said the team gets some of its spark from senior outside hitter Ali Hammer. Hammer is recognizable for her ever-present smile on the court, but she’s also made her hitting a key to the team’s attack.

“When Ali connects, things happen,” Whittington said. “I think sometimes she surprises herself. She’s such a joy to have on the team.”

Whittington said the progress made by Hammer and Alicia Brugler as the team’s primary outside hitters has made it more difficult for opponents to focus their blocking efforts toward the Tigers’ middle hitters.

The Tigers are now turning their focus to the WIAA Division 2 tournament season. The seeding for the regional tournament bracket won’t be done until Wednesday, so it can include the final round of conference matches on Tuesday. New Richmond will almost assuredly get one of the top three seeds in the regional tournament bracket, but where they land won’t be decided until after Tuesday’s matches are played.

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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