GRANTSBURG -- Some of the best small school programs in the northern half of the state awaited the New Richmond and St. Croix Central volleyball programs when they competed at the annual Grantsburg Invitational on Saturday.

Central ended up third and New Richmond fourth in the eight-team tournament. They played against each other in the third-place match after they took second place in their respective pool rounds. This was a gritty battle where both teams flashed their ability. New Richmond won the opening set 25-22 and Central took the second set by the same score. Central jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the third set and the Tigers could never cut into that margin, with Central finishing off a 15-9 win.

“That was fun,” New Richmond coach Al Getschel said of the action-packed match against their Middle Border Conference rival. “That was good intensity. Tough serving, tough hitting, it was everything you could ask for in a match.”

The Tigers faced Mercer, Clayton and Spring Valley in pool action. The Tigers started with a 25-29, 25-22 loss to Mercer, a team that is an elite defensive program.

“They dug up everything we threw at them,” Getschel said.

The Tigers then faced Clayton, a team that has reached the WIAA state tournament in Division 4 each of the past six years. The Tigers were much sharper this time around, winning 25-19, 25-21. Clayton got ahead of the Tigers in the second set, but the cohesive play carried the Tigers back for the win.

In the opening set against Spring Valley, the Tigers struggled, losing 25-15 to a team they handled easily in their home quad. They were reminded of that fact between sets and the Tigers came back with vigor to win the final sets 25-13, 15-8.

“Our serve received has picked up a ton since the beginning of the season. That’s what we work on every day in practice,” he said.

The balance in the Tigers’ attack showed Saturday. Mandy Dolezal led the team with 22 kills, with Audrey Feuerer scoring 19 and Leah DeYoung 17.

Central also had some formidable opposition, including Grantsburg, which advanced to state last year in Division 3. The Panthers lost to the Pirates, but did defeat Turtle Lake and Frederic.

The Panthers will be in another tournament this Saturday, competing at Osceola.

Somerset volleyball

The Spartans opened their 2019 season under new coach Amber Vrieze in a quad meet at Cadott last Thursday. The Spartans were defeated in matches against Cadott, Gilman and Bloomer in the tournament.

The Spartans are a young team, with three seniors returning. There is strong interest in volleyball in Somerset, with nearly 50 girls in the program.

Vrieze has the Spartans using a 6-2 attack so there will be three hitters available in the front row at all times. The Spartans are using Stevie Haigh and Sophie Rivard as setters.

Defense is an area that Vrieze views as an early strength for the team, with Gracie Lambert returning as the libero and Madison Trautmiller as the defensive specialist.

Vrieze is enthused about the growth the team has already shown.

“We had a fantastic preseason. We’re trying to build a new culture, a new identity for the program,” she said.