Lost between the drama of last Tuesday’s non-conference match against the second-ranked Division 2 team in Minnesota-- North Branch-- and the prestigious St. Michael-Albertville Invite over the weekend, was a pretty historic victory for the Wildcat volleyball team.

The Cats swept Chippewa Falls on the road last Thursday, Oct. 10, to become the first Big Rivers Conference team ever to win four straight conference volleyball titles.

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The Cats won by scores of 25-12, 25-13, 25-18, to push their conference winning streak to 26 straight.

“That was a solid team effort and a great way to end our conference season,” head coach Sara Kealy said.

The Wildcats recorded 46 kills as a team with 11 different players registering at least one kill, led by Halle Olson with 12 and a .667 hitting percentage. Senior Abby Larson, who is known for her blocking contributed five kills while hitting .714 while the Wildcat defense was led by Brianna Brathol, who came up with 17 digs on the night.

Two nights earlier the Cats came up with a big three-set sweep over North Branch, who entered the match with a record of 20-1. Kealy said there was plenty of familiarity on the floor.

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“Lots of connections,” she said. “Their big outside hitter, Cianna Selbitschka, plays club with Maddi (Kealy) and Emily (Banitt) and will be attending Duluth to play volleyball next fall with Maddi, and their coach had Haley (Graetz) and Dani (Lien) on his team in the offseason.”

Coach Kealy said the Wildcats played some of the best volleyball from start to finish that she has seen this season.

“I thought in particular our block and back court defense was amazing,” she said.

Abby Doerre led the defense with 15 digs from her liberon position while Olson had 11 and Banitt chipped in 10. Larson led the way at the net with four blocks while Graetz and Anna Wolf scored two apiece.

“Being able to defend a top hitter like Cianna is something we haven't done much this season,” Kealy said. “So it was great to see this develop this time of year.”

Offensively Banitt led the way with 12 kills while Olson contributed nine and Wolf had eight. Maddi Kealy dished out 43 assists and the Cats drilled eight aces, with half coming from Olson.

River Falls’ Haley Graetz (4) delivers a kill between two North Branch defenders in the Cat’s 3-0 victory Tuesday night, Oct. 8, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
River Falls’ Haley Graetz (4) delivers a kill between two North Branch defenders in the Cat’s 3-0 victory Tuesday night, Oct. 8, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

Coach Kealy said the weekend tournament in Albertville was another opportunity for the Wildcats to compete against some of the best teams in Minnesota and South Dakota. The Cats opened up against Miller, S.D., who is ranked No. 7 and has an outside hitter who has committed to Kansas State.

“It was a tough first round match but we dominated them,” Kealy said. “We passed the ball well in serve-receive and limited our unforced errors.”

The Cats went on to defeat St. Paul Academy before suffering their only loss of the tournament to Minnesota powerhouse Wayzata.

“They were a big and physical team,” Kealy said. “We struggled to pass in serve-receive, which forced us to set the pin hitters without a quick offense.”

The Cats were also without the services of Graetz, who missed the weekend with an illness.

“We have not had one match against a top team this season with our full crew,” Kealy said. “I am looking forward to the playoffs and having everyone healthy.”

Those playoffs begin next week but first the Cats will wrap up the regular season with a non conference match at Hill-Murray Thursday, Oct. 17. The WIAA Division 1 playoff seeding meeting is this Wednesday, Oct. 16.