Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 regional volleyball final was a lot more emotional than River Falls coach Sara Kealy expected. Not because the Wildcats swept Superior for their fourth straight regional title. But it was the last time seven of those Wildcats will ever play a match on their home court.
“We are very proud of the regional championship, but the emotions were connected to the realization that this was the last time we play at home this year,” Kealy said.
Abby Doerre, manager Amelia Hadzima, Emily Banitt, Halle Olson, Jenna Huppert, Maddi Kealy, Abby Larson and team manager Amelia Hadzima have helped the Wildcat program post a record of 157-15 over the last four years while never losing a home match. And while Coach Kealy pointed out that all senior classes are special, she admitted this one hits closer to home because her step-daughter Maddi is one of its members.
“I do a good job of separating roles and being her coach during the season, but when I took her out at the end of set three, my emotion was that of a parent,” Coach Kealy said. “Proud of all she has accomplished in her high school career and excited about what lies ahead for her, both in the tournament and beyond in to her college career.”
Kealy said she has similar feelings for the rest of the class.
“Emily and Halle have been in my gym for four years,” she noted. “I have had a front row seat watching them grow up both on and off the court. They are players that we have built a program around. I could not be more proud of all seven of these young women and am grateful that they have been apart of this program. The wins are impressive. More importantly though, we are all better because of the relationships we have built with them.”
The actual match against Superior didn’t hold as much drama as the Cats rolled the Spartans 25-14, 25-11, 25-9. Olson led the Cats in kills with 10 and drilled seven service aces while Banitt had nine kills and seven digs. Maddi Kealy dished out 22 assists, and along with Anna Wolf recorded four blocks at the net.
The victory sends the top-seeded Wildcats to the sectional semifinal round Thursday, Oct. 31 in New Richmond where they will face Big Rivers Conference rival and No. 5 seed Hudson at 5 p.m. The other semifinal features second-seeded Eau Claire North of the BRC against No 6 Wausau West.
“We are excited to play against Hudson on Thursday,” Kealy said “It's wonderful to see three BRC teams make it to the sectionals. We will refocus this week on what we need to do now for this next phase. The exciting thing about a Hudson rematch is that neither Anna or Maddi played against them earlier in the year. We are a totally different team now and ready to advance.”
Thursday’s winners will meet in the sectional final and a berth in the WIAA State Tournament Saturday, Nov. 2. As of press time the match is scheduled to be played at Wausau West High School at 7 p.m.