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Spikers off to strong start

Wildcat senior Joellen Turner (12) goes up for a kill in the Cats' match against Somerset at the River Falls Volleyball Quad last Tuesday at the high school gym. The Cats defeated the Spartans, 20-25, 25-19, 15-9. <i>Bob Burrows photo</i>

The Wildcat volleyball team got off to a good start in its season opening home quad, beating Somerset, New Richmond and Spring Valley, before going 4-4 at the 30-team Menomonie Sprawl over the weekend at UW-Stout.

Head coach Sara McDonald believes 2012 will be an exciting season for Wildcat volleyball. River Falls returns six players from last year's squad, along with seven newcomers who McDonald said give the team the potential to win more games than last season.

"The neat thing about these kids is that they work hard in the off season to prepare to be successful in the fall," McDonald said. "Our season is only about eight weeks long so, if the players aren't willing to work outside of the school season we would not be improving as a program the way we are.

"Losing nine seniors last year you would expect to see the program take a hit, but I do not anticipate that happening for us this year," she added.

The Cats defeated Somerset 20-25, 25-19, 15-9 and topped New Richmond 25-16, 25-22, 16-14, before beating Spring Valley 25-18, 15-13, 12-15 in their season-opening quad last Tuesday.

"These are games that we need to win in order to prepare us for tougher competition that we face in conference," McDonald said. "We have not swept the quad in years past so it was a nice way to start off the season. I was able to play everyone and tweak line ups to see who might play well together."

McDonald said she was especially pleased with the play of senior Joellen Turner, who led the team with 17 kills and three solo blocks on the day.

"It was nice to see her establish herself as a threat at the net," the coach said.

Junior Kayla Myhre also performed well, McDonald said, leading the team in digs and posting a very respectable hitting percentage.

Juniors Halle Barnabo and Megan Pechacek led the team in passing while junior setter Izzy Shafer dished out 48 assists in the three wins.

The Wildcats went 4-1 on the first day of the Menomonie Sprawl Friday in Menomonie to earn a spot in the top Gold Division for Saturday's championship round.

River Falls defeated Onalaska, Elk Mound, Cadott and Turtle Lake Friday with its only loss coming to Stevens Point.

Saturday, the Cats lost to Stoughton, Mosinee and Luck to finish 10th out of 30 teams from across the state.

"This tourney is new to us this year and we are really excited to be a part of it," McDonald said. "We were in every match and lost a couple due to a cap (meaning you don't have to win by two points). We lost a game 26-27 and another by 16-17. This was really unfortunate because it could have made the difference in overall record and how we placed. Nevertheless, I am pleased with our first Sprawl performance and 10th place finish."

McDonald pointed out there were six other Big Rivers Conference teams at the tournament, and the only one that finished ahead of River Falls was Chippewa Falls.

"Although we didn't play any of them head to head we are pleased to have represented our conference so well," she said.

Shafer totaled 168 assists on the weekend to earn a spot on the elite All-Tournament Team.

"What impressed me most about her play was that she is maturing as a setter," McDonald said. "She is such an athletic player and to pair that with good decision making will make her one of the best setters in our conference."

Pechacek led the Wildcats with a passing average of 2.15.

"Our team goal is a 2.0 and she has consistently been our best passer both in practice and matches," McDonald said. "She also led our team in digs with 38. She is reading and reacting in ways that can't be taught and is a stabilizer for our ball control." Amanda Rohl had a team-high 54 kills on the weekend while Turner finished with 35 kills and five blocks.

The Cats will open BRC play at home7:15 p.m. Aug. 3, against Rice Lake.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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