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Another fun week: Cats take Watertown title to improve to 23-0

Wildcat volleyball coach Sara Kealy wanted to give her team some tougher competition when she signed them up for the Watertown Invitational last Saturday, Sept. 16.

The rest of the teams probably wish she didn't.

The Cats went 5-0 at the invite to cap a 7-0 week and improve to 23-0 on the season. They opened the week with three-set wins at Prescott Tuesday, Sept. 12 and Rice Lake Thursday, Sept. 14. But Kealy said the team had the most fun at Watertown, located about 50 miles east of Milwaukee.

"I love this overnight trip with our team," she said. "We have such fantastic girls in our program and it is fun to be able to continue to develop our team chemistry with a weekend away. We used to go to the Portage tournament but felt that we needed stronger competition this year so we decided to go to Watertown."

The Wildcat's only bump in the road was a second set loss to Cedarburg in the championship round. Other than that they swept Shoreland Lutheran, Fort Atkinson, De Pere and host Watertown while taking care of Cedarburg in three sets, 25-17, 19-25, 15-8.

"I was really proud of our team that they continued to raise their level of play as the competition grew tougher," Kealy said. "We have been beating people easily most of the year and showed this weekend that we can compete more aggressively when pushed."

Senior setter Izzy Barr had a stellar day, dishing out an even 100 assists in the five matches while drilling seven service aces with no errors.

"Every tournament that we go to I have officials or coaches from other teams come up to me and tell me how much they enjoy watching Izzy play," Kealy noted. "It's nice to see others in the volleyball community recognizing her talents."

Kealy said senior libero Sam Krueger was all over the court, recording 45 digs to keep the ball in play.

"She is such a sparkplug for our team," the coach said. "We would not be able to utilize our offensive weapons they way we do without her ball control."

Kealy also pointed to the consistency of junior Sarah Langlois at the tournament.

"She had 10 kills on the day which wasn't one of the highest, but did it hitting .450 on fewer attempts," Kealy pointed out. "She is so fast to close the block and transitions quicker than anyone else on our team."

Sophomore Emily Banitt led the Cats with 39 kills while sophomore Halle Olson and senior Marissa Stockman each had 31.

Stockman was unstoppable last Tuesday night in Prescott, recording 10 kills with no hitting errors in the sweep over the Cardinals.

"To say that she was unstoppable would be an understatement," Kealy said. "There was no hope of Prescott digging the balls she hit. She was on a mission."

Olson finished the night with a team-high 15 kills while hitting .667.

"Halle also hit the ball extremely well," Kealy said. "She was moving it around and was mixing up her shots. It was a good balance between power and finesse."

Barr finished with 36 assists, but Kealy praised her supporting cast for helping her out.

"Our passing core of Sam Krueger, Elise Banitt, Halle Olson and Emily Banitt don't get enough credit," she said. "It is easy to watch us play and notice how powerful our offense is, but that offense is made possible by the players that are working hard to serve receive pass. It isn't a job that gets the glory, but it's a necessary part of any team's success."

Barr also led the defense with 10 digs while Stockman had a pair of solo blocks and three assists.

Kealy missed the Rice Lake match two nights later due to an open house at her school so assistant coach Fred Barr ran the show and the Cats responded with a three-set win to improve to 4-0 in Big Rivers Conference play.

"Rice Lake is a veteran team and they always play great defense but they have a 6-2 girl in the middle and a lean, athletic outside hitter that made our players notice during warm ups," Barr said. "Fortunately we were able to keep them out of their system and back on their heels much of the time. Izzy spread out our offense well and our defense was crisp, rarely letting them score more than a point at a time. That's a winning combination."

Olson led the Cats with 11 kills and Emily Banitt had 10 while Izzy Barr dished out 25 assists. Elise Banitt paced the defense with 10 digs and Emily Banitt had eight while Olson and Emily Banitt each drilled four service aces.

The Wildcats return to BRC action this Thursday at home against Eau Claire Memorial at 7 p.m. Saturday they will host the 10-team Wildcat Invitational at the high school beginning at 8 a.m.

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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