Kaitlyn Nugent didn’t hesitate when asked what was different about playing the Prescott Cardinals on their home court compared to playing them at the New Richmond quad.
“It’s Prescott,” Nugent said. “This is their home court, and we’re their rivals. They always come ready to play us.”
The Panthers defeated the Cardinals 2-0 at the New Richmond quad on Tuesday, Sept. 10, but allowed the Cardinals to earn a set win in their 3-1 win in the Nest on Thursday, Sept. 19.
“Prescott always plays us tough,” Ellsworth’s head coach Nicole VandeBerg said. “Every time we come here, we know it’s going to be a battle just for that reason.”
And they did.
The Cardinals jumped out to an 8-2 lead over the Panthers in the first set of the night after Ellsworth recorded six errors at the net and in serve receive. The Panthers climbed back once Avery O’Neil got active at the net, but the Cardinals were able to create their second six-point lead of the night when Savanna Murphy recorded an ace to make it 13-7 in Prescott’s favor.
The Panthers climbed back to close the deficit to 18-14 and then went on a 6-0 run behind the hitting of O’Neil and Alexia Sabby to create their first lead of the night. Bella Lenz created two sideouts for the Cardinals with an outside kill and a block, but the Panthers sealed the comeback with two kills from Claire Kummer, one from Brooke Minder and an ace from Emily Mallon to claim a 25-20 set win.
Set 2 featured three lead changes but ultimately ended 25-20 in Ellsworth’s favor once again. The Cardinals challenged the Panthers with the hitting and serving of Aaliyah Adrian, but the Panthers were able to lean on the hitting prowess of Minder and Sabby who combined for eight kills in the second set of the night.
The Panthers seemed to use their momentum from Set 2 to begin the third set of the night as they took an early 12-5 lead, but the Cardinals refused to be shut out on their home court. The Cardinals took advantage of erroneous net play from the Panthers while activating Mckenna Johnson who led her team to a 10-3 run with three kills to tie the set at 15-15. The Cardinals took their first lead of the set at 20-19 and turned to Adrian’s serving once again to claim a 25-22 set win over their rivals. Adrian recorded a team-high six aces for the Cardinals.
The fourth and final set of the night clarified the edge the Panthers had over their rival hosts. After dropping the third set, the Panthers came out utilizing their hitting depth and marched to a 10-5 lead after the Cardinals committed two hitting errors and a setting error. A Kaitlyn Peterson ace forced a Prescott timeout, and the Cardinals were never able to get within four points of the Panthers for the remainder of the night.
“It’s something we talk about a lot,” Minder said when asked about staying mentally tough. “We’re confident enough to know that if we lose a set, we can bounce right back and play our game.”
That’s still a work in progress for the Cardinals who weren’t content with just challenging the Panthers on their home court.
“I think a lot of the time we play (Ellsworth) a little bit more frantic,” Prescott’s co-head coach Sami Martell said, “which doesn’t help our cohesiveness and just the flow of the game. Our flow was just a little off tonight, so we were trying to get that back together, but we didn’t know what the secret was to it tonight.”
“But the girls showed a lot of grit in the third set,” Prescott’s co-head coach Geoff Snyder said. “They were facing a deficit that third set and came back and won it. Throughout the preseason, we’ve been seeing a lot of shining moments. It’s just putting it all together into one cohesive match.”
Both teams still have plenty of time to fine tune their weaknesses before regionals, which begin in the third week of October. For now, they’ll take their Middle Border Conference play one game at a time and enjoy the final month of their regular season.
“It was our last time playing our rivals in Prescott,” Nugent, a senior, said. “We went out with a good one.”
OTHER AREA SCORES:
Elk Mound 3, Spring Valley 0
Colfax 3, Elmwood/Plum City 1