RIVER FALLS-- With at least a share of their fourth straight Big Rivers Conference title in the books, Wildcat volleyball coach Sara Kealy was feeling a little nostalgic after last week’s 3-0 victory over Eau Claire Memorial.
“Thinking back to 2016 when we won the first BRC title in 21 years, Em (Banitt) and Halle (Olson) were freshman,” she noted. “I knew then that we had the potential to be able to do this year after year, but to actually have it come to fruition, is so impressive.”
The Wildcats can wrap up the BRC title outright with a win Thursday night at Chippewa Falls. And their chances improved greatly with the return of 6-foot, 4-inch junior middle blocker Anna Wolf last week.
“She is such a physical presence at the net due to her height and reach,” Kealy said. “Our hope was to have her back by the end of the regular season. Getting her a couple weeks early was a gift. It gives us a few more weeks to get her up to speed before the playoffs start.”
After missing the first six weeks of the season with a back injury, Wolf returned to the court last Thursday against Eau Claire Memorial and posted 10 kills on 13 attempts for a .769 hitting percentage. After registering her first kill, the students in the Cat’s Den student section started chanting, “Welcome back! Welcome back!”
“My favorite part of watching Anna return to the court was the joy that she felt getting a chance to play and the excitement that her teammates felt for her.” Kealy said.
Banitt, a freshman on the Cat’s first BRC title team in 21 years in 2016, contributed seven kills Thursday night while sophomore Haley Graetz recorded six. Senior Maddi Kealy dished out 23 assists and Banitt and classmate Abby Doerre had seven digs each while Graetz and Kealy each scored three blocks. Olson, the other freshman starter four years ago, led the team in aces with three.
The Wildcats are 29-5 overall this season, 5-0 in BRC play and ranked No. 3 in the state in the latest Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association Division 1 poll. They’ve won four straight BRC titles and three straight sectional championships. And Kealy said this year’s expectations are just as high.
“Each season we have had a core of experience driving us and newbies added to the roster that are talented,” she said. “Each year we graduate a lot, but maintain these high expectations for the returning group to succeed. I am very proud of this group and the success they have experienced! It is well deserved.”
Following Thursday’s BRC match at Chippewa Falls , the Wildcats will compete at the St Michael-Albertville Tournament Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11-12, before wrapping up the regular season Thursday, Oct. 17, at Hill-Murray.