Osceola has been a roadblock that’s stopped a lot of volleyball teams this season.
On Saturday, St. Croix Central became one of those teams.
The Panthers were hoping to advance to the WIAA Division 2 sectional tournament, but it will be the Chieftains who are making that trip. The Panthers put up a hearty battle, but lost 26-24, 25-16 and 25-23 to the Chieftains. Osceola will face Bloomer in the Division 2 sectional semifinals on Thursday at Osceola. The winner of that match will play in the sectional championship match, scheduled for Saturday at Mosinee.
The Panthers returned to the regional final with their win on Thursday. Central won the opening set 25-19, before Ashland took the second 26-24. The final two sets were also close, but Central was able to restore their lead with wins of 25-22 and 25-20.
Led by the sharp serving of seniors Khloe Martinez and Morgan Siler, the St. Croix Central volleyball team was able to advance in the WIAA Division 2 regional playoffs with a three-set win over Somerset on Thursday. The loss ends Somerset’s season.
Central will be back in action on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the second round of regional action. The Panthers, seeded fourth, will host fifth seed Ashland. The Oredockers are coming off a three-set win over Northwestern on Tuesday.
Central and Somerset started out with both teams playing high-end volleyball. Central’s pinpoint serving gradually wore down the Somerset serve receiving.
The first set was back and forth most of the way, with the score tied at 19-19. A kill by Olivia Cleary got Central the next point. Somerset kept battling, but couldn’t get the lead back and Central finished with a 25-22 win.
It was in the second set where Central’s serving took over. Somerset led 6-2. Central then went on a 23-3 rally, fueled by two long service runs by Siler and Martinez. Central finished the set with a 25-12 win.
The third set also started out closely. But a stretch of serves by Martinez built Central’s lead to 18-7 and Somerset again couldn’t come back, losing 25-16.
Somerset first-year coach Amber Vrieze said this match resembled many of the team’s losses this season. She said getting a win in the first set was critical for the Spartans. “Then we could have played with that intensity, that momentum,” she said in the succeeding sets.
This match showed several areas where the Spartans have improved this season. One is blocking. Central was forced to shift nearly all its hit attempts to the outside hitters. Somerset sophomore Hope Baillargeon is an excellent blocker and Vrieze said that Rachel Gaikowski has made major progress in that area.
Vrieze said the Spartans’ passing clicked in the first set, which allowed the team to mix up its hitting attack, which led to success. Vrieze liked the energy the girls showed on the court, saying the biggest area of improvement for the Spartans this season has been in their hustle. She said that is part of the growth the team wanted in its first season under a new coaching staff.
“We wanted to build our values and expectations,” Vrieze said. “In those ways, we saw huge team growth. Next year we can build upon that.”
For Central, this win showcased the team’s fine depth. Panther coach Mindy Widiker credited Somerset for successful blocking in the middle. She said the Panther setters recognized what was being taken away and got the ball to the outside hitters, where the Panthers were able to find a higher grade of hitting success.
Widiker said the Panthers’ hitting depth means the team can be just as successful attack from the outside as they are from the middle.
The serving was another aspect that set the Panthers apart. Widiker said the Panthers’ servers were aggressive.
“We picked them apart with our serves,” Widiker said.