The River Falls volleyball team lived up to its motto of “All In” in its three-set state semifinal loss to Oconomowoc at the Resch Center in Green Bay Friday night.
The first two sets could have gone either way but Oconomowoc prevailed by scores of 26-24, 25-23. Then with their backs against the wall in the third set, the Wildcat’s couldn’t string together enough runs, and the Raccoons ended the Cat’s season for the second straight season in the state semifinals by a score of 25-16.
Second-seeded Oconomowoc improved to 39-3 and advanced to face No. 1 seed Arrowhead (40-3) in Saturday night’s Division 1 state title game while the third-seeded Wildcats end the year with a record of 38-7.
But they didn’t go down without a fight.
“I thought Oconomowoc played really well tonight. I want to give them credit,” River Falls coach Sara Kealy said. “But I have to follow that up by saying that I’m really, really proud of how our girls battled. I thought it was a showdown of two good teams and the ball could have dropped either way in those first couple sets. I think it was hard once we got down 0-2 to try and dig our way out against that competition.”
The Wildcats took their first lead of the opening set, 17-16, on an ace by Haley Graetz but Oconomowoc came back to tie the score twice before a kill by Halle Olson, a Raccoon service error and a kill by Anna Wolf gave River Falls a three-point lead, 22-19. The Raccoons rallied and led 23-22 and 24-23 but kills by Olson and Emily Banitt tied it up each time before Oconomowoc scored the final two points to take the set.
The second set was more of the same with the score tied nine times, the last at 23-23, before the Raccoons once again scored the last two points for the win.
River Falls hung in the third set early and were tied 7-7 before Oconomowoc used a 7-2 run to clinch the match by a score of 25-16.
It’s the third straight year River Falls and Oconomowoc have met in the Division 1 state semifinals. River Falls won in four sets in 2017 on their way to a state runner-up finish before losing a five-set heartbreaker last season.
Kealy said she didn’t think the previous meetings between the two teams had anything to do with their latest Friday night match.
“I feel like every year, ironically when we’ve played them on Friday night, it’s been a different team and a different experience,” she said. “Tonight’s match was just it’s own animal. I don’t think it’s anything really about Oconomowoc and River Falls. I don’t think it’s mental hurdle. I think we just try and play it point for point.”
Senior Emily Banitt emphasized that point.
“I think we all put our hearts out there tonight,” she said. “It’s not a mental thing. We all played our best.”
Banitt was all over the court Friday night, flying around the back line to register a team-high 10 digs while adding nine kills at the net. Olson also had nine kills while Wolf led the team with 10 while hitting an impressive .444.
Graetz contributed five kills and setter Maddi Kealy dished out 30 assists while Kealy and libero Abby Doerre came up with seven digs each.
Doerre said the Wildcats played their final match the same way they’ve been playing all season.
“I think that throughout the season we played our hearts out,” she said. “We left everything on the court. I know that this moment right now sucks, but I think we left it all out there.”