The Ellsworth Panthers volleyball team has been known for its front-row depth this season.
But when the Panthers' hitting fell flat in their first three sets against the Barron Golden Bears in their WIAA Division 2 regional quarterfinal game, the Panthers had to lean on strategy.
"We played really flat for the first three sets and were fortunate to get a win in Set 2 to stay alive.," Ellsworth's head coach Nicole Vande Berg said. "We were really hesitant to hit the ball and instead played safe by tipping and rolling the ball over the net. We knew Barron ran a 5-1 offense, so we at least were aware of where the setter was and were able to send those shots to her and try to pull Barron out of their offense, which is probably what kept us in the match."
No. 11-seeded Barron took Set 1 25-22, No. 6-seeded Ellsworth pulled off a 25-23 Set 2 win and the Golden Bears retook the lead with a 25-21 Set 3 win.
Vande Berg said her team finally played the way it was capable of playing in its dominant, 25-10 Set 4 win and found its ability to hit the ball. Once their hitting got rolling, the Panthers' momentum carried on into Set 5, in which they claimed a 15-7, game-winning victory.
Aside from the Panthers' tactical moves to take out Barron's setter, Autumn Earney-Radkey was also a game-changer.
"Autumn Earney-Radkey played some of the best defense she has all year and hit the ball well," Vande Berg said. "She saved us in many situations digging a ball that would normally land. I'm hoping for the same type of performance tonight."
The Panthers' 3-2 win over Barron earned them a regional semifinal matchup against the No. 3-seeded Altoona Railroaders who defeated No. 14-seeded Hayward 3-0 (25-18, 25-12, 25-9) on Tuesday night. The Railroaders are 19-19 on the season and finished 4-3 in Cloverbelt Coference play. They'll host Ellsworth at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24.