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St. Croix Central volleyball can grow from its final win of season

St. Croix Central's Mia Krogseng (23) and Katie Koerper (9) go up to block an Ellsworth hit during Central's win in the opening round of the WIAA volleyball playoffs.1 / 2
The St. Croix Central volleyball players celebrated heartily after their wild win against Ellsworth last week. 2 / 2

The St. Croix Central volleyball team did a great deal of growing between the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

And the Panthers’ final win, in the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 regional playoffs, should provide plenty of inspiration for the Panthers to continue their work this offseason.

The Panthers fought off elimination time and time again to win the match in five sets. Ellsworth won the opening set 25-21. Central came back to win the second set 26-24, but Ellsworth roared back to take the third set, 25-15. Central’s hopes were on life support when the Panthers fell behind 22-14 in the fourth set. They charged back in an incredible finish to win 29-27, but their work was far from done. Especially when Ellsworth took a 9-4 lead in the fifth set.

Central’s girls somehow made another uprising. They outscored Ellsworth 11-2 in the rest of the set to win 15-11.

Central coach Mindy Widiker said the team reviewed recent losses and found that their play got a bit tentative and safe.

“That’s OK sometimes, but in this match we played to win,” she said.

The Central attack was led by Abbie Widiker and Katie Koerper, who combined for 40 kills in the win. They combined for seven ace serves to lead the team. They were also the team’s leader in digs, combining for 36 between them. Mari Buckel was also in double figures in digs with 11.

A big factor for Central was blocking. The Panthers registered 16 blocks, including seven from Mia Krogseng.

“She’s been a great addition,” Coach Widiker said of Krogseng.

The fourth seeded Panthers then tried to take out top-seeded Altoona on Thursday. They nearly did it too. The Panthers shocked the Altoona crowd by winning the first set, 25-20. Altoona took the next three sets 25-18, 25-21, 25-17, but all three were battles.

“We gave them a run for their money,” Coach Widiker said. “I don’t think they were expecting us to play that tough.”

Widiker and Koerper again carried the hitting load, with 29 kills between them. The Panthers had a boat load of digs against the hard-hitting Rails. It was led by Widiker with 24. Buckel, Koerper and Taylor Heinrich were all in double figures for digs.

Rachel Larson and Kalli Cress combined for 29 assists as the Panther setters.

The Panthers were one of the younger teams in the area this season, with Larson and Heinrich as the only seniors. Coach Widiker said they both will be hard to replace.

“Rachel’s really consistent and pretty smart. She’s good at everything she does,” Widiker said. “Taylor took on more of a leadership role and was much more confident in her skills.”

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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