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Spikers nail down tourney title

Raider sophomore Stephanie Little watches her shot balance on the top of the net after being blocked by a Menomonie defender in the first game of the Raiders' 3-1 win over the Indians last Tuesday at the high school. Bob Burrows photo

The Raider volleyball team capped off an up and down week on a high note by taking first at its pw 8-team invitational on Saturday.

Earlier in the week the Raiders pulled out a 3-1 Big Rivers Conference win Tuesday at home against Menomonie before being swept, 3-0, in nonconference action Thursday at Ellsworth.

Saturday the team returned home and went 4-0, beating Prescott, Ladysmith and Superior in pool play before wrapping up the Hudson Invitational title with a 25-11, 25-16 win over Somerset.

"This was probably the best match we have played this season," Raider head coach Dennis Saathoff said about the win over the Spartans. "We served very well in this match and kept them on their heels the entire match."

Kristen Briggs, Britni Eberlin, Stephanie Little, Ashlyn Ferron and Amber Saathoff provided the offensive firepower while Saathoff and Kirsten Iverson shared the distribution of assists. Elizabeth Gagliardi and Kari Pelzel helped anchor a Raider squad that didn't commit a single service reception error for the first time this season.

The Raiders started the day by taking 29-27 win from Prescott to win the first set of a match for the first time all year. They wrapped up the win with a 25-19 win in set No. 2.

Amber Saathoff, Little, Eberlin and Natalie Horsman led the team in kills and Saathoff, Iverson and Megan Kelly dished out the assists while Briggs and Jamie Lindstrom led the team in blocks and Gagliardi in digs.

In their second match of the day against Ladysmith, Ferron got on board consistently with kills and recorded the Raiders' only solo bloc of the match in a 25-19, 25-23 Hudson victory.

"Kari Pelzel, Elizabeth Gagliardi and Amber Saathoff all had good runs of points while serving," Coach Saathoff said.

Hudson reached the title game with a 25-13, 25-20 victory over Superior. Ferron and Elle Schwartz both went through the match without committing a single hitting error while Amber Saathoff and Kelly combined for all of the team's set assists and Little came up with two solo blocks.

"The entire team played very inspired volleyball all day long," Coach Saathoff said. "The girls played their roles well, whether it was as a starter or it was coming in off the bench. They were all focused and completed their goal of winning the tournament. This was by far our best effort of the year."

Earlier in the week against Menomonie, the Raiders started out slow and lost the first set, 21-25, but came back to win the next three, 25-21, 25-18, 25-13.

"You could see the girls gaining confidence as the match went along," Saathoff said. "The sloppy play that cost them in the first set was corrected and they kept adjusting the rest of the night and we really controlled the play at the net."

Eberlin led the team in kills, followed closely by Horsman, Little and Schwartz. Amber Saathoff led the team in assists and recorded three service aces with no errors while Gagliardi led the defense in digs.

Thursday provided the low point of the week as the Raiders were swept at Ellsworth, 16-25, 19-25, 19-25.

"It was not a good night for the team as a whole," Coach Saathoff said.

Among the highlights for the Raiders were five service aces by Kelly, Amber Saathoff hitting .500, and a run of six straight points at the end of the third set while Iverson as serving.

The Raiders will travel to the Northwestern Tournament Saturday, Sept. 19 before hosting Rice Lake Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 7:15 p.m.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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