If it's a challenging schedule the St. Croix Central volleyball team was looking for this pre-season, it has been that and more.
The Panthers played in a pair of triangulars last week and they continue to be unbeaten for the season. They defeated Altoona and Barron last Tuesday, before topping Ellsworth and Glenwood City last Thursday.
This comes after the Panthers defeated all three opponents they faced in their home quad meet that started the season, along with winning a triangular at Chetek.
The match of the week was when Central faced Ellsworth on Thursday. This was a clash of the two Middle Border Conference teams returning with the most on-court experience this season. And the battle lived up to its billing. Central won the opening set 25-23, and Ellsworth came back with a 25-20 win. The third set went Central's way, 15-5.
"It was a great match," said Central coach Mindy Widiker. "(Ellsworth) has got some good athletes and they do a lot of things well."
Katie Koerper and Abbie Widiker carried the hitting load for Central, combining for 19 kills. Koerper also had three service aces, with Kalli Cress and Claire Frankiewicz scoring two each.
Defense was an area where the Panthers' team approach really showed, with nine different girls registering digs during the match.
A young Glenwood City was no match for the Panthers in the other match on Thursday. Central rolled to a 25-15, 25-6 victory. Koerper led the team with seven kills and five aces. Khloe Martinez led the team with seven digs.
Altoona has been one of the top teams in the area for several years, but the Rails aren't quite to that level yet this season. Central was able to score a 25-15, 25-18 win over Altoona last Tuesday. Frankiewicz and Koerper both had five kills. Widiker led SCC with four aces and Mary Buckel was tops on the team with eight digs.
Buckel's defense was a factor in the Panthers' three-set win over Barron. Central romped to a 25-8 win in the opening set, but Barron bounced back for a 25-23 second-set win. Central retook command in the final set, winning 15-4.
Buckel led the Panthers with 12 digs in the win. Widiker's 10 kills were tops on the team.
There is more challenging non-conference opposition awaiting the Panthers this Saturday when they play in the Grantsburg Invitational. The Panthers host another non-conference match next Tuesday when Durand's squad visits.