It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the River Falls volleyball team was going to get the top seed in in Section 1 for the WIAA playoffs. Now the Wildcats have to live up to that billing.
The Wildcats have clearly been the best of the 15-teams in their sectional this season, going undefeated in Big Rivers Conference play and 35-6 overall while ending the regular season as the fourth-ranked Division 1 team in the state in the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association poll. With a first-round bye in the postseason, the Cats will begin their quest for a fourth straight WIAA State Tournament appearance with a regional final game at home against either eighth-seeded New Richmond or No. 9 Superior Saturday night, Oct. 26.
“We’re looking forward to postseason play,” River Falls coach Sara Kealy said. “We got the unanimous No. 1 seed, which was expected. But postseason play is our ‘4th Quarter,’ and it takes on a totally different vibe.”
River Falls geared up for the postseason with a 25-14, 25-12, 25-22 victory over a talented Hill-Murray team Thursday, Oct. 17 in St. Paul. And despite not being in top form, Kealy said it was nice to see the Wildcats find the mental toughness to win.
“We had a few players that struggled with one facet of their game or another and they were able to grind through it,” she said. “It's important to know that as an athlete, things aren't always going to click. You have to be mentally tough enough to play through it and find a way to contribute to your team's success. This is a good lesson to experience before heading into the postseason.”
Junior Anna Wolf, who returned to the Wildcat lineup two weeks ago after sitting out the start of the season with a back injury, paced the Cat’s attack with 16 kills and an .800 hitting percentage, while sophomore Haley Graetz registered three blocks. Senior setter Maddi Kealy dished out 25 assists while senior libero Abby Doerre came up with nine digs.
“I thought Anna had an exceptional hitting night and Haley Graetz played great defense at the net,” Kealy said. “We controlled the match from start to finish. This was an opportunity for us to fine-tune things on our side of the net. We are implementing new serve-receive patterns and offensive plays. It’s fun to do this against competition.”
With a first round bye, the Wildcats won’t face any competition this week until Saturday night’s regional final against either New Richmond or Superior. With the sectional semifinals scheduled for New Richmond Thursday, Oct. 31, and the sectional final in Wausau Saturday, Nov. 2, Saturday night’s match will mark the last home match for seniors Doerre, Maddi Kealy, Emily Banitt, Halle Olson, Abby Larson and Jenna Huppert.
“It’s the last time our seniors get to play in our gym, in front of our fans,” Coach Kealy noted. “They have contributed so much to the growth of this program. It would be wonderful if the community could be there to show them how much they are appreciated.”