River Falls’ volleyball coach Sara Kealy wanted to see a little more intensity from her team in the postseason. And Thursday night’s Division 1 sectional semifinal in New Richmond against Big Rivers Conference rival Hudson was a perfect time for them to show it.
The third-ranked Wildcats came out hot from the start, posting a 25-11 first set win over the Raiders, and after trailing briefly at the start of the second set finished off the Raiders 25-15, 25-15, to advance to the sectional finals for the fourth straight season.
Kealy said she had a little talk with her team after it’s regional final victory over Superior last Saturday.
“I could tell they didn’t come into Saturday’s match with that fire,” she said. “I think it was good that we drew Hudson in this round because you get a little bit of that Hudson-River Falls rivalry, and it just adds a little spark that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
The Raiders, who finished second to the Wildcats in the BRC standings, were playing in sectionals for the first time since 2007. But River Falls jumped on them early, pulling out to a 14-5 lead before a kill by Emily Banitt gave the Cats a 25-11 victory.
Hudson got an early ace from Maddie Matuke and a pair of kills from Noelle Kiltie to pull out to a 4-1 lead in the second set but River Falls responded with a 12-7 run and led 16-9 before a Hudson time out. The Raiders got as close as five, 19-14, before a drop shot by Banitt and two kills by Halle Olson made the final 25-15.
The Wildcats never trailed in the third set, and after a thunderous kill by Wolf electrified the Halloween-clad River Falls student section to make it a 24-13 game, the Cats took two of the next three points to finish the sweep.
Kealy said she liked the Wildcat’s “swag.”
“We talked a lot about swag,” she said. “I have some of the nicest kids on my team and I’m grateful for that. But at the same time I don’t want them to be nice all the time. I want them to play with that intensity of wanting to just destroy a team. And we’re starting to figure that out. The first set especially, I think they came out with that fire.”
Senior libero Maddy Doerre said the Cats heard Kealy’s message loud and clear.
“It’s always great to play your rival,” she said. “And we just wanted to come out with swag and beat them.”
Eau Claire North’s three-set victory over Wausau West in Thursday night’s second match sets up an All-BRC sectional final between the top-seeded Wildcats and No. 2 Huskies Saturday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. in Menomonie.
The Wildcats are seeking their fourth straight trip to the WIAA State Tournament, which will be played Nov. 7-9 at the Resch Center in Green Bay.