Anyone who’s followed the high school careers of the 2019 Ellsworth volleyball team’s seniors are a special group of student-athletes.
“They’re one of the most athletically gifted groups that’s come through,” Ellsworth’s head volleyball coach Nicole Vande Berg said. “On any given night, they don’t always put it together, but as far as putting our athletes against any other athletes from any other school, I’d take our six over a lot of others just because I think they’re a gifted group of kids. And that comes naturally, but a lot of it also comes through hard work. They’re in the weight room every Monday and Wednesday by 6:30 and lifting with the football team, and they’re not intimidated to be in there as a group of girls. I think that says a lot.”
Their dedication and athleticism is met with a competitive drive that’s fostered a hatred for losing.
“I’ve never seen a group of girls so passionate about the game and that wants to be successful so badly,” junior Brianna Giese said. “They strive for their goals every day, every game, every practice.”
So when their goals aren’t met, the disappointment is tangible.
“I thought we played pretty well, but obviously it’s never enough when you don’t get a win,” senior Kaitlyn Nugent said after the Panthers’ 3-0 loss to Osceola on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
The Panthers dropped all three sets by six or less points (25-19, 25-21, 25-23) after their multifaceted offense kept them competitive but their serve receive faltered down the stretch.
“They’re solid up until about 20-20 and then I think they get nervous,” Vande Berg said. “They’re a pretty competitive group. Losing isn’t something they’re accustomed to and they don’t like to do it, so I think they play a little tense in those big moments.”
In Set 1, the Panthers faced a 21-15 deficit but used a rightside kill from Avery O’Neil out of a timeout and a push from Nugent to build some momentum. However, two Hailey Ebert aces sealed the first set of the night at 25-19.
The Panthers took a late 21-20 lead in Set 2 with a quick, middle kill from Brooke Minder, but the Chieftains matched their offensive prowess with kills from Makenna Hollman and turned to Ebert who recorded two more aces before the Panthers gave the Chieftains their 25th point by committing a hitting error.
Facing a 2-0 deficit, the Panthers showcased their best offense in the final set of the night. The senior chemistry was noticeable every time Nugent set up O’Neil for a curving, J attack or when Nugent perfectly framed a quick set for Minder. However, the Chieftains pulled ahead with a 19-16 lead with two aces from Hollman, never trailed for the remainder of the night, and set the Panthers’ final Middle Border Conference record below .500.
But the Panthers and their seniors’ competitive drive aren’t going anywhere.
“We obviously have things to work on come playoffs,” Nugent said. “We’re not happy with our losing record, but now everyone is 0-0 for playoffs. We’re going to come work hard these next couple of days.”
The Panthers received a No. 6 seed in their WIAA Division 2 sectional bracket and will host the Barron Golden Bears on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m.
“It was interesting sitting in the seeding meeting,” Vande Berg said. “Nobody stands out as significantly better than anyone else. The No. 1 seed is 20-17. It’s not daunting to look at. It’s pretty much open; anyone can win any given night. We’re just going to play the way we can, and we can do some things.”
OTHER AREA SCORES
Tuesday, Oct. 15
St. Croix Central 3, Prescott 1
Colfax 3, Spring Valley 0
Durand 3, Elmwood/Plum City 0
Thursday, Oct. 17
Spring Valley 3, Mondovi 0
Elmwood/Plum City 3, Boyceville 2
Ellsworth, EPC, Prescott to begin playoff runs at home
The 2019 WIAA volleyball playoffs brackets were released on Wednesday, Oct. 16, and all but one Pierce County team will begin their playoff runs at home.
The Division 2 Ellsworth Panthers and Prescott Cardinals will both host their first playoff games, which will both be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22. The No. 6-seeded Panthers will host the No. 11-seeded Golden Bears, and the No. 8-seeded Cardinals will host the No. 9-seeded Amery Warriors — whom they beat 3-0 in Middle Border Conference play — on Tuesday.
The Elmwood/Plum City Wolves received a No. 7 seed in their Division 4 Sectional 1 bracket and will host the No. 10-seeded Greenwood Indians on Tuesday night.
The Spring Valley Cardinals were given a No. 10 seed in their Division 3 Sectional 1 bracket and will be on the road for their first playoff game in which they’ll compete against the No. 7-seeded Westby Norsemen. The Cardinals will face the Norsemen at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. All other first-round playoff games will begin at 7 p.m.
Full brackets can be found at the WIAA's website.