HAMMOND, Wis. -- The St. Croix Central volleyball team has gotten off to some slow starts in their matches so far this season, but they continued to finish strong last week in victories over Somerset and Ellsworth to improve to 5-0 on the season.

The Panthers struggled early in both matches, including dropping their first set to Somerset Tuesday night at home 16-25, before winning the next three sets 25-12, 25-20 and 25-20 and going on to sweep Ellsworth two nights later.

“We had a slow start in the first sets for both matches,” Panther coach Mindy Widiker said. “We will definitely need to have stronger first sets down the road as our season progresses. Overall though, as a team, we did a lot of things well both offensively and defensively.”

Katie Gostovich led a balanced Panther offense with nine kills and Olivia Cleary, Delaney Bohatta and Macie Segebrecht had nine each while Meadow Berg dished out 22 assists and Kaitlyn Holmgren had 16.

“Our attackers did a nice job of mixing up their shots throughout the matches and our setters did a great job of involving all of our attackers and keeping our offense well balanced,” Widiker noted.

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Somerset’s Mykenzie Leccia (12) reaches for the ball while St. Croix Central’s Katie Gostovich (2) defends at the net in the first set of the Panthers’ 3-1 victory over the Spartans Tuesday, Sept. 24, in Hammond. Bob Burrows
Somerset’s Mykenzie Leccia (12) reaches for the ball while St. Croix Central’s Katie Gostovich (2) defends at the net in the first set of the Panthers’ 3-1 victory over the Spartans Tuesday, Sept. 24, in Hammond. Bob Burrows

Defensively Brianna Wilman came up with 12 digs and Gostovich had nine while Cleary had one solo block and three block assists.

“On defense we had some impressive digs and blocks,” Widiker said. “However there is still plenty we need to work on and improve upon. We'll be working towards limiting our errors at critical times, decreasing our service errors, increasing communication on the court, and improving our serve receive.”

The Panthers will hit the road for three matches this week at New Richmond Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Baldwin-Woodville Thursday, Oct. 1, and at Amery Saturday, Oct. 3.

Tigers bounce back after loss to Osceola

New Richmond volleyball coach Jeff Thiel wasn’t sure how the Tigers would respond against Baldwin-Woodville last Thursday after a tough four-set loss at Osceola two nights earlier. Especially since the Tigers didn’t perform that well in a preseason scrimmage against the Blackhawks.

“The emotional toll of Tuesday's disappointment and a few of our teammates were out, but the girls assured me that they'd get up for it,” Thiel said. And the girls did, sweeping the Blackhawks by scores of 25-13, 25-22, 30-28.

Thiel said he was especially proud of his team for pulling out that tough third set.

“The third set was a gem,” he said. “Baldwin-Woodville gave us a great fight and the score reflects both teams' intensity. There was a great rally near the end of that set where both teams were scrambling and fighting it out for almost a minute.”

Thiel said Angie Blinderman, who had an off night earlier in the week against Osecola, bounced back nicely to lead the team in kills Thursday night with 13.

“We talked on Tuesday about how effective we are as a team when we just keep swinging, and Angie definitely used that to her advantage on Thursday,” Thiel said. “She was a force, and our team rallied around that.”

Leah DeYoung contributed nine kills in the win while Cassie Dolezal registered eight. Blinderman also came up with 16 digs on defense while Abigail Blaszczyk finished with 14.

“Abigail Blaszczyk again was tremendous defensively flying all over the court for us,” Thiel said. “I continue to be impressed by her increased mental game that is letting her physical skills really show this season.”

Blaszczyk recorded a team-high 24 digs two nights earlier against Osceola and DeYoung, Kylie Naylor and Dolezal all had double-digit kills with 18, 11 and 10, respectively, but the Tigers couldn’t get over the hump in a 16-25, 16-25, 28-26, 23-25 loss to the Chieftains.

“We really struggled with finishing our attacks,” Thiel said. “Our outsides had a lot of opportunities to score down the line but just turned the ball a little too wide. Coupled with a lot of serving errors and we just weren't who we are in the first two sets of that match. We're really proud of what we did in the third and fourth sets of that match.”

The Tigers will host St. Croix Central Tuesday night, Sept. 29, and visit Prescott Thursday, Oct. 1, before returning home to host Somerset Saturday, Oct. 3, at 10 a.m.

Wildcats adjusting well on the fly

If there’s one certainty surrounding the Wildcat volleyball team this season, it’s that whoever they plug into the lineup is stepping up.

The Wildcats posted a pair of 3-0 victories over Rice Lake last week, and both matches featured some new players in new positions.

“We talked prior to the season that we needed to ‘be flexible, be positive and be ready,’” Wildcat coach Sara Kealy said. “This was in regards to whether or not we would have a season. We are three weeks in and it continues to be a phrase we reference. The schedule is constantly changing, the line up is constantly changing, but it doesn't matter. We are grateful for the opportunity to play volleyball. I had kids fill roles this week that they typically don't, and they continue to impress me. All of these athletes are so versatile and well rounded.”

Dani Lien moved to outside hitter Thursday night after playing libero in the previous three matches while Maddy Doerre took her talents from the backcourt to the net following the shift of Amelia Armstrong to the middle blocker position, and Kealy said both Doerre and Armstrong are hitting the ball aggressively.

“I can tell that Maddy is getting more and more comfortable because she is hitting a larger variety of sets,” Kealy noted. “It is nice to know that we have the depth to fill roles when players are out due to injury and illness.”

Kealy said the Wildcats were missing one player Monday against Rice Lake and two players Thursday due to Covid testing.

“We are grateful that both are negative and we can get back to our normal roster in practice this week,” she said. “But when players have to make these adjustments, it’s nice to have the teammates around them provide stability.”

Covid has also caused the cancellation of a pair of scheduled matches against Menomonie this week. The Cats will make up one of those matches Tuesday, Oct. 6, at Menomonie and play Hudson in a home-and-home series Monday, Oct. 12 and Thursday, Oct. 15, before wrapping up the regular season at home against Menomonie Monday, Oct. 19.