HAMMOND, Wis. -- Winning a five-set match on the road is one thing, doing it with the conference title on the line without your full complement of players is even more special.

That’s what the St. Croix Central volleyball team did last Thursday, Oct. 8, at Prescott, downing the Cardinals by scores of 21-25, 25-23, 27-25, 19-25, 15-7 to claim the Middle Border Conference championship.

“It was a team effort for sure,” Panther coach Mindy Widiker said. “This match was a battle for us. We were a little out of sorts to start with, being down a couple of varsity players so we called upon a couple JV players to suit up and help us out.”

One of those JV players was Eliza Cleary, who Widiker said did a great job filling in as a middle attacker and blocker.

“And she came through as a reliable server who served up some tough balls during critical times,” Widiker said.

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Katie Gostovich led the Panther attack with 18 kills and Katie Larson and Macie Segebrech had 15 each while Meadow Berg dished out 32 set assists and Kaitlyn Holmgren had 19. Gostovich also registered a team-high 15 digs while Hannah Dux had 13 and Grace Benson had 12.

Widiker said the Panthers struggled at times, but pulled through and finished with a strong fifth set to improve to 9-1 on the season.

“It was good to see them push through some struggles and work together to get the win,” the coach said.

The conference clinching victory came two days after the Panthers swept Osceola, 25-20, 25-14, 25-21, at home.

“We had a strong first set against Osceola,” Widiker said. “This helped to set the tone for the rest of the match.”

Widiker said the Panthers were able to run their offense effectively due to some good serve receiving, and their setters did a nice job of spreading the offense around and working around Osceola blocks.

“It was a great night for us both defensively and offensively,” she said. “We limited our errors and made some smart plays.”

Tigers earn pair of four-set wins

Due to contact tracing quarantine situations and injuries, the New Richmond volleyball team used a different starting lineup again last week at Ellsworth and Amery, but head coach Jeff Thiel said the Tigers played with great poise and incredible trust in each other in a pair of four-set victories.

New Richmond defeated Ellsworth 25-15, 26-28, 25-19, 25-22 Tuesday night, Oct. 6, and Amery 25-23, 25-12, 16-25, 25-17 Thursday, Oct. 8, to improve 6-4 on the season.

Thiel said the Tigers found inspiration in playing for their sidelined teammates.

“The girls very clearly wanted to keep their season alive and make their teammates proud,” he said. “The team was really good at maintaining a ‘next ball’ mentality for longer stretches of both matches, and they've done that by swinging hard at the ball and putting our opponents in positions that they aren't comfortable playing in.”

Leah DeYoung led the attack against Ellsworth with 19 kills and Angela Blinderman scored 11 while Cassie Dolezal had 10. Ashley Patten had 44 total assists and Cassie Emmerich recorded a career-high 20 digs.

Thiel said he couldn’t say enough about the toughness Maddy Casey showed in her first extensive playing time at the varsity level.

“She was steady, and her teammates knew they could trust her as she covered her teammates,” Thiel said. “She played outstanding defense in the backcourt and picked up some slop balls to keep us in rallies all night long. And we needed that because we had a rough night serving with 15 service errors to only eight service aces.”

Casey came up with 11 digs Thursday night at Amery and Emmerich had 15 while Dolezal led the Panthers with 17 kills, DeYoung had 14, and Patten picked up 37 assists.

Thiel said the Tigers will get a chance to avenge some early season losses during the MBC crossover matches this week. They’ll visit St. Croix Central Tuesday night, Oct. 13, and play either Osceola or Prescott Thursday before a postseason tune-up against Chippewa Falls Saturday.

“The girls are very fired up and motivated,” he said. “We are so excited to get some of our teammates back next week and continue to train together. It will be a unique challenge to this season that our team has embraced.”