WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. -- River Falls volleyball coach Sara Kealy felt something just wasn’t right with her team before its WIAA Division 1 State Volleyball semifinal against Burlington Saturday.
“From the very beginning of the match, I just had this pit in my stomach that this isn’t what I’m used to seeing in them,” Kealy said.
It wasn’t what anybody was used to seeing from the Wildcats, who after losing just one set all season dropped three straight to Burlington to see their season end in the state semifinals for the third straight year.
Burlington defeated River Falls by scores of 25-16, 28-26, 25-21.
“Our energy was off from the very beginning,” Kealy said. “And it’s hard to pinpoint why that is in this type of setting. You could play really well all season, but I think it’s all the pressure that comes with playing at the state tournament that you don’t realize until you’re there. We did the whol e-- ‘Yay, we’re here!’ -- thing before we came out. But just being here isn’t the end-all.”
Neither team led by more than two points in the first set until Burlington was able to build an 18-15 lead before scoring seven of the last eight points to win 25-16.
The second set was more of a battle, with the Wildcats taking an early 5-2 lead only to fall behind 9-6. A tip kill by Morgan Kealy put River Falls up 14-13 but the score was tied five times before back-to-back kills by Brianna Brathol moved the Wildcats within a point of the win at 24-22.
But the Cats couldn’t get over the hump, managing only to keep the score tied at 24, 25 and 26 before a Burlington ace gave the Demons a 28-26 win.
River Falls jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the third set and, after Burlington stormed back to tie the score 10-10, Haley Graetz delivered a kill and Maddy Doerre and Amelia Armstrong teamed up for a block to put the Wildcats up 12-10.
The Demons came back to take a three-point lead before another kill by Graetz tied the score at 20-20, but the Demons scored five of the last six points to clinch the match.
Kealy said she was hoping the change of venue for the state tournament from Green Bay’s Resch Center to Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School would help the Wildcats.
“I thought the change of venue would be something different for us and take away a little bit of the pressure,” she said. “But we’re really good at putting pressure on ourselves and we just had a lot of jitters. There were flashes, but we weren’t able to sustain anything for any length of time.”
Anna Wolf led the Wildcats with 10 kills and Armstrong had seven while Graetz and Doerre registered five apiece and Kealy dished out 28 assists.
Four Wildcats recorded double digits in digs with Brathol leading the way with 17 Kealy contributed 15, Graetz had 13 and Dani Lien had 12. Wolf finished with four blocks and Kealy had three while Armstrong scored two.
Coach Kealy said it was hard to pinpoint what went wrong for the Wildcats in the loss.
“It just felt really weird from the get-go,” she said. “I told them if it was something I could figure out, I would fix it for you. But I don’t know what it is.”