RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- River Falls seniors Anna Wolf said the best part of playing in her fourth straight WIAA State Volleyball Tournament was having a student section there.
“The energy was something we hadn’t seen before this year with them there,” she said. “It made it a lot more fun.”
About 30 River Falls students were able to make the trip to Wisconsin Rapids for the Wildcats’ state semifinal match against Burlington Saturday afternoon. A far cry from the hundreds that attended the previous four state tournaments the Wildcats have played in, including Wolf in the last three.
But after playing in front of just parents and close family members during the regular season due to coronavirus restrictions, Wolf said classmates made her fourth and final state tournament appearance special.
“It was awesome,” she said. “It was great that people wanted to come.”
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Wolf has been a starter for the Wildcats since her freshman season, helping the team earn a state runner-up finish as a freshman before reaching the semifinals the last three years. And even though her final state tournament appearance ended with a three-set loss to Burlington, she said she and her teammates left it all on the court.
“I think our team fought till the end,” she said. “We tried our best, but sometimes it’s just not there.”
Wildcat coach Sara Kealy said Wolf , who led the team with 10 kills Saturday, has shown a lot of grit while battling through a back injury the past two seasons.
“It’s really hard for Anna, having been to four state tournaments, and I felt like she’s grinded through injury,” Kealy noted. “Even this week, she wasn’t well but came out in that first set and I said, ‘How do you feel?’ and she said, ‘I feel pain-free.’ I think it was all adrenaline. She’s used to playing at this level.”
Wolf will take her talents to the University of Minnesota next season. She was one of four Wildcat seniors -- along with Amelia Armstrong, Maddie Morrow and Bella Pupungatoa -- who saw their high school careers end Saturday.
“I think Amelia, who was on the team last year and played a little bit during the season but didn’t get to play at state, she was just so excited to be out there and did everything we asked her to do,” Kealy said. “And even for Maddy and Bella not playing today but the emotions were there, that my high school career just ended. So it was really hard for me to stand and look at them in the huddle and see the tears.”
Wolf is a three-time All-Big Rivers Conference and two-time all-state player, and while the BRC won’t pick all-conference teams this season she’s a lock for another all-state accolade. At 6-feet, 4 inches tall, she entered the season with 700 kills in just 271 sets after missing half of last season with a back injury. She has a career hitting percentage of .465 with an impressive 10-foot, 5-inch approach touch.
Kealy, herself a Division 1 player at the University of Illinois in her college days, said Wolf has a bright future ahead of her at Minnesota, but stressed there’s nothing like playing for your hometown high school team.
“College is so different because it’s like it’s own special thing,” Kealy noted. “But there’s something about high school volleyball. And I think in our community in River Falls, where people really rally around it, it’s kind of an experience in itself.”
Wolf already had a trunk full of memories of her time as a Wildcat before the coronavirus pandemic hit. She said that just made this year’s team more special.
“I’m just going to remember how crazy the quarantining and Covid was, but also how well this team worked through that and didn’t let it be a distraction and just kept playing,” she said. “I’m very excited about college, but I’m going to miss this a lot.”