The contributions Lexi Johansen and Maddie Matthys provide for the Spring Valley Cardinals volleyball team go far beyond what they can do at the net.
The two senior Cardinals are not only reliable outside hitters, but they’re also locks in the back row where Spring Valley (13-8 overall, 3-1 Dunn-St. Croix play) relies on their defense to make their offensive prowess possible.
Johansen and Matthys’ steady play guided the Cardinals to a 3-0 win over the Elmwood/Plum City Wolves (8-13, 0-4) in Plum City on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Johansen recorded three big digs in the first four volleys of the Cardinals’ Set 1 win over the Wolves, which ended 25-12. Matthys recorded three aces in Set 1 while the Wolves were unable to record a single ace all together in the first set. The two seniors’ passing, along with that of freshman libero Ava Birkel, allowed the Cardinals to utilize multiple hitters. Three Cardinal hitters recorded two or more kills in the first set, and Mataya Kado led the crew with two kills from the middle and an outside kill that went through the hands of the EPC blockers.
“I think one of the biggest things is that Taya is coming alive,” Cardinals’ head coach Kelli Schlegel said after the game. “She’s our second All-Conference player from last year, and I think now she’s realizing, ‘OK, I’ve got to step up and do my job.’ Having her come alive and step up at the net has helped a lot.”
The senior middle hitter led the Cardinals with nine kills on the night.
The Cardinals got off to a quick lead in Set 2 after four of their first eight points came from EPC attack errors. However, seven of the Wolves’ 15 total Set 2 points came from unforced errors made by the Cardinals. The Wolves created a small, 5-0 lead at the end of Set 2, but the Cardinals bounced back with kills from Johansen and Morgan Rustad and another ace from Matthys to seal the 10-point set win.
Matthys described EPC as a “scrappy” team after the game, and her description of her opponents came through in Set 3.
After losing the first two sets of the night, the Wolves stuck with the Cardinals and trailed 13-11 midway through the final set of the night.
Matthys credited the Wolves for challenging her team throughout the night but said the Cardinals came out with insufficient energy in the final set of the night. However, she was proud of the way her team refused to drop a set loss in their road win. The Cardinals pulled ahead for good with two aces from Jasmine Ortner, two more kills from the middle from Mataya Kado and more consistent play from Johansen and Matthys, but Matthys believes her biggest contribution to the team can’t be measured by a stat.
“I think having (her and Johansen) play through the rotation gives the other girls someone they can rely on when the games get close,” Matthys said.
Schlegel would agree.
“Those two specifically have the most effect on the team,” Schlegel said. “If they’re on fire, it’s like everyone crowds around them and brings them up. They’re the leaders on the floor no matter what — back row, front row, serving.”
“We’re kind of starting a new level,” Schlegel said. “They’re realizing that half of the season is over, and if they want to be a special team in the end, they need to continue to work hard on and off the court.”
Schlegel’s answer is immediate when asked what her Cardinals need to work on specifically in the second half of the season. “It’s all about their confidence,” the Cardinals’ head coach said.
“Every single one of them has the ability to play with any team in our conference, even in our area. But just having the confidence to go in there, maybe make some errors, but shake it off and go to the next one.”
Schlegel said her team’s management of its confidence has still been a bit of a roller coaster at this point in the season, but after Tuesday night’s win, it’s on the uphill side.
“Hopefully it stays that way,” Schlegel said.
EPC’s head coach Amanda Webb felt her team’s lacking confidence in its 3-0 loss on Tuesday night. She saw improved passing at times, which allowed her setters to set up Mikinzie Ingli and Anna Blanford at middle more than they’ve been able to as of late, but the drive isn’t quite up to par right now.
“We’ve got to find the desire and want to compete,” Webb said. “We’re missing that spark. I felt we played much better earlier in the year than we are right now, so we’ve got to find a way to turn that around.”
The Wolves dropped their second game of the week 3-1 to Glenwood City on Thursday, Oct. 3, but Webb was pleased with the improvement she saw from her players who battled through four sets that were all decided by two points.
"We played together much better as a team and never gave up when we were down compared to Tuesday against Spring Valley," Webb said. "I hope we take this and continue to move back in the right direction."
The Cardinals continued their winning streak on Thursday when they defeated Boyceville 3-1. Johansen recorded a team-best 18 kills while Ortner led the Cardinals with 45 assists. Defensively, Birkel held down the fort with 27 digs, and Alexia Anderson and Matthys recorded three aces apiece.
OTHER AREA SCORES
Prescott’s co-head coach Sami Martell said her team lost its momentum in their 25-16 Set 2 loss to the Somerset Spartans on Tuesday, Oct. 1 but that it came back and played as a team in the final two sets of the night, which they won by scores of 25-13 and 26-14.
The fourth set was very close all the way through, but the Cardinals pulled away with the win thanks to a few momentous plays including saving dive by Savanna Murphy and a kill from Bella Lenz, which gave the Cardinals a 24-23 lead.
The Cardinals went on to lose 3-0 to New Richmond on Thursday, Oct. 3, and are currently 3-2 in Middle Border Conference play.
The Ellsworth Panthers boosted their MBC record with a 3-0 sweep over the Somerset Spartans on Thursday night after dropping a five-set loss to the Amery Warriors on Tuesday. The Panthers are sitting at 2-2 in conference play with just three league games left on their regular-season schedule.