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Volleyball gears up for regional tournament

Junior Serena Schultz (13) makes a block at the net as senior Katrina Zenz (15) moves in to help in the second set of the Raider volleyball team's 3-2 loss to Chippewa Falls last Tuesday at the high school gym. Photo by Bob Burrows

After pushing Chippewa Falls to five sets in a 3-2 loss last Tuesday, Oct. 11, then sweeping Baldwin-Woodville, 3-0, two nights later, the Raider volleyball team was poised for strong performance at Saturday's Big Rivers Conference Tournament.

Despite losing three close matches in round robin play, Hudson ended the day with a 3-1 victory over Menomonie to finish in seventh place. Head coach Dennis Saathoff said he believes the team will rebound when it begins WIAA regional play Thursday, Oct. 20.

"We were really in each of the round robin matches, but we just couldn't sustain enough momentum to win any of them," Saathoff said about last Saturday's BRC Tournament. "I think the girls are on the verge of really breaking out for a great match so I am very hopeful of a positive outcome (Thursday)."

The 11th-seeded Raiders take on No. 6 Rhinelander Thursday at 7 p.m. in a WIAA regional semifinal at D.C. Everest High School. A win would send them to Saturday's regional finals against either No. 3 Marshfield or No. 14 Menomonie.

Last Tuesday the Raiders pushed Chippewa Falls to five sets before losing their regular season BRC finale by scores of 13-25, 25-14, 25-15, 14-25, 9-15.

"It was a very fun match and the girls played well for the middle two sets, maybe even the best defense we have played all year," Saathoff said. "But they started the last set flat and just never got back into the flow of things."

Abby Francis, Katrina Zenz and Serena Schultz led the Raiders in kills while Zenz, Schultz and Stephanie Little were tops in blocks. Little also led the team in service aces and didn't record a single service error the entire match.

"Mariah Hallen played consistently for us all night and made only one unforced hitting error, which was the best on the team in that area," Saathoff said. 

Saathoff also praised the play of Hannah Wirth and Maddie Drewiske, who led the team in digs and service receptions.

"They both played many hard driven spikes that Chippewa was sure would be points," he said.

Becca Woitas led the team in assists, followed by Brooke Little.

"Our problem on the night was that when our play went cold, it was team wide and we couldn't get ourselves worked back out of it quickly enough to recover," the coach noted.

Thursday night the Raiders swept Baldwin-Woodville in a nonconference match, 27-25, 25-15, 25-21.

"For the first time this year, our right side attackers, Serena Schultz and Mariah Hallen, led the team in kills," Saathoff said. "Although Maddie Drewiske got her share of kills from the left side, she once again bolstered our defense, challenging libero Hannah Wirth for the lead in digs."

Stephanie Little and Zenz had four blocks apiece at the net while Drewiske and Zenz led the team in service aces.

Saturday the Raiders opened the BRC Tournament by losing 2-0 to Chippewa Falls by a combined six points, dropping a hard-fought, three set match to Rice Lake, and falling to Memorial after pushing the first set score to 25-27. They went on to defeat Menomonie, 25-22, 20-25, 15-7 in the playoff round to earn seventh place.

"After losing that second set the girls really dug down and played with great resolve," Saathoff said. "They jumped out to an early lead and stayed focused to finish off a relatively easy set victory." 

Zenz, Stephanie Little and Drewiske took turns leading the Raiders in kills in the three matches, while Little and Zenz tied for the team lead in blocks. Setters Woitas and Brooke Little put up almost identical numbers in assists and defensive digs, with Woitas just ahead in assists and Little ahead in digs, while Wirth led the defense in digs and service receptions.

"She is beginning to play up balls that were getting past her earlier in the season, which is prolonging our rallies and giving us the chance to win more of the long rallies," Saathoff said about the play of Wirth.

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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