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St. Croix Central volleyball remains unbeaten in MBC

Katie Koerper has harnessed her intensity to become one of the leading hitters for the St. Croix Central volleyball team this season.

Volleyball may be the sport where momentum carries more importance than in any other sport.

That was the case in last Tuesday’s St. Croix Central volleyball match at New Richmond. In the first two sets, New Richmond had the momentum, keeping the Panthers on their heels. Early in the third set the Panthers wrestled the momentum away from the Tigers and never gave it back, winning the match in five sets.

The Panthers went into hostile territory last Thursday, playing at Baldwin-Woodville during the Hawks’ Homecoming week. The Panthers were able to block out the raucous crowd, defeating the Blackhawks 25-22, 25-8, 25-23.

In last Tuesday’s match, the Panthers couldn’t get things straightened out early, losing the opening set 25-16. The second set could have been deflating for the Panthers. They led 11-6 and 18-13, but New Richmond fought back to win 28-26.

The third set didn’t start well for Central, falling behind 8-5. The Panthers rode a strong serving run from Mari Buckel into the lead. New Richmond came back to tie the match at 17-17, before Central used a strong finishing flurry to win 25-20.

Central fed junior outside hitter Katie Koerper in the third set and she continued powerful hitting the rest of the night, finishing with 18 kills. Central coach Mindy Widiker said Koerper’s intensity is reflected in her play.

“She loves volleyball. She puts her heart and soul into it,” Widiker said. “She’s a leader on and off the court.”

The Panthers had to persevere again in the fourth set. They jumped out to a 9-1 lead, but New Richmond charged back to cut the lead to 12-10. The Panthers withstood the charge, scoring six straight points late in the match to pull away for a 25-16 win.

New Richmond scored the first point of the final set, but it would be the Tigers’ only lead. The Panthers used a balanced hitting attack to control the fifth set, winning 15-7.

Koerper wasn’t the only Panther to register double-digit kills in the win. Abbie Widiker also had 10 kills. Claire Frankiewicz finished with six kills. Buckel led the Panthers with 11 digs, followed by Widiker with eight.

The Panthers were feast or famine servers in this match. They served up 13 aces, led by six from Widiker and four from Koerper. But they also missed 19 serves in the five sets.

When Central goes to Baldwin-Woodville, the Panthers are always prepared for a hostile environment. That preparation paid off in last Thursday’s match.

“It was a really loud environment,” Coach Widiker said. “Thankfully (the Panthers) have most things figured out on their own.”

The first set was a battle the whole way, with Central winning 25-22. Buckel made sure the Panthers had control in the second set. She served 20 straight points in leading the Panthers to a 25-8 win.

Coach Widiker said the Panthers try to use serving as an area where they can have an advantage in every match.

“All the girls jump serve now and they’re not afraid to use it in matches,” Widiker said, explaining that the more velocity the Panthers put behind the serves, the more difficulty their opponent will have setting up an offense against that serve.

The Panthers were prepared for B-W’s best in the third set and they got it, but the Panthers were still able to manage a 25-23 win.

Koerper led the Panthers with 14 kills at B-W, followed by Frankiewicz with seven and Widiker with six. Heinrich and Widiker led the team with eight digs.

The Panthers now have a week off between matches. The next outing for the team will be next Tuesday when they play at Prescott.

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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