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Volleyball keeps on rolling

Wildcat senior Marissa Stockman (16) and teammates Elise Banitt and Izzy Barr celebrate a Stockman kill in the first set of the Cats' 3-0 sweep over Ellsworth Thursday, Oct. 5, in River Falls. Stockman recorded a team-high 11 kills in the match. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
Wildcat senior setter Izzy Barr settles under a ball before dishing out one of her team-high 30 assists in the Cats' 3-0 win over Ellsworth Thursday, Oct. 5, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

Winning never gets old. Just ask River Falls volleyball coach Sara Kealy.

The Wildcats took care of Ellsworth in three sets last Thursday, Oct. 5, at home before going 5-0 to win the Irondale (Minn.) Tournament Saturday, Oct. 7, to improve to 36-0 on the season.

"Seems like I say this each week, but it was another fun week," Kealy said after picking up her 200th career win at Cannon Falls. "As a coach, this team is a dream come true because there are so many talented players and they all have a high volleyball IQ."

That high IQ was on full display in the semifinals at Cannon Falls against Minnesota's sixth-ranked team from Northfield. After taking the first set, 25-23, and losing the second, 17-25, the Wildcats rallied for a 15-11 win to advance to the championship match against Tartan.

"Watching both teams warm up, I could tell that we were going to have a battle on our hands," Kealy said. "They have some very talented players, and could match up with us well in terms of height and speed. We lost some intensity in the second set and struggled a little with limiting our unforced errors. We haven't been in that situation much this season, but once again, the girls turned it on when they needed to. I knew when they left the huddle before set three started that we would win that match. They were confident and composed."

Halle Olson led the Cats against Northfield with eight kills while Marissa Stockman and Emily Banitt registered seven apiece. Olson also paced the defense with nine digs while Anna Wolf recorded four block assists and Elise Banitt had three. Setter Izzy Barr was her usual steady self with 28 assists.

Against Tartan in the finals, River Falls found itself down 14-20 in the second set before reeling off 11 straight points to win the title, 25-16, 25-20.

"That is a pretty big gap in a rally scoring game," Kealy said about the 11-point deficit. "I called a timeout to regroup and the girls take direction so well and are able to apply the adjustments immediately."

The Wildcats opened the tournament by beating Medford, 25-9, 25-9, Sibley East, 25-10, 25-19 and Farmington, 25-17, 25-14. The victory over Sibley East was Kealy's and assistant coach Fred Barr's 200th win in their eighth year together at River Falls.

"It was fun to be able to reflect back on all the athletes that have played for us over the years that helped us reach that milestone," Kealy said. "We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with them and to build this program from the ground up."

The Wildcats started the week with a 25-5, 25-19, 25-19 victory Thursday at home against Ellsworth.

"Set one was almost flawless volleyball for my girls," Kealy said. "We have had a tendency this season to see a drop in intensity in sets two and three. Sometimes it is because I make changes to the line up. Other times it is because we had such a big first set win that we feel like we can let off the gas. Ellsworth is an athletic team and they played very tough when we opened the door for them."

Stockman led the way with 11 kills while hitting .533 and Olson had nine kills while Abby Doerre was the team's top passer with a 3.0 clip. Emil Banitt led the defense with eight digs while Izzy Barr dished out 30 assists.

The Wildcats will look to wrap up their second straight undisputed Big Rivers Conference championship when they host Eau Claire North Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. at the high school.

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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