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Volleyball reload in full swing

Junior Maddie Kealy has stepped into the starting setter role for the Wildcat volleyball team this season and has helped the Cats get off to a 12-0 start and a No. 3 ranking in the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association Division 1 state poll. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
River Falls’ Maddie Morrow (9) and Hudson’s Shay Wassman (2) battle for a ball at the net in the second set of the Wildcat volleyball team’s 3-1 victory over the Raiders Thursday, Sept. 6, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

Maddie Kealy loves being compared to Izzy Barr.

"A lot of people are like, 'you're very Izzy-esque,'" Kealy said. "I take that as a huge compliment. She's definitely the biggest role model I've had on the court forever."

Barr was the Wildcat volleyball team's three-time all-state setter who graduated last spring as the school's all-time assist leader. Kealy has spent the last two seasons watching Barr work her magic, and has now stepped into the starting setter role in her junior season.

So after watching Barr lead the Wildcats to back-to-back state tournament appearances and a state runner-up finish a year ago, does Kealy feel any pressure?

"Pressure for sure," she said. "But to not think about it helps a lot. I just go out and play the game of volleyball."

So far she's reminding people a lot of Barr. Kealy was nominated for Wisconsin Sports Network Player of the Week after helping the Wildcats win the Menomonie Sprawl three weeks ago, and has them off to a 12-0 start and a No. 3 ranking in this week's Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association Division 1 state poll.

Kealy dished out 39 assists in the Wildcats' latest win, a four-set victory over Hudson Thursday, Sept. 6, at home. The match marked the first time the Cats had lost a set in Big Rivers Conference play in over a year. Kealy and her coach and step mom, Sara Kealy, had differing views about dropping the second set, 24-26, to the Raiders.

"Not great," Maddie said. "I feel like we definitely could have taken them in three and it was really just a downer to lose. But it pumped us all up for the next set, and I think it just made us more motivated to take that last one and we did."

That's exactly what head coach Sara Kealy was hoping would happen.

"I loved it," she said. "I think it's important that our girls know that if they don't show up, it doesn't matter who you're playing, you're not invincible. We talk all the time about how good they are at this and how good they are at that. But they need to know that you need to pass the ball and you have to put balls away and you can't have 15 service errors. So as a coach, I'm happy to see that because it made them refocus and it made them realize that they've got to do some things differently."

The Wildcats dominated the Raiders in the other three sets, winning the opener 25-12 before taking the last two by identical 25-14 scores. Halle Olson led the offense with 13 kills and a .455 hitting percentage while Anna Wolf had 11 kills and hit .579 and Sarah Langlois drilled 10 kills and hit .600.

Maddie Kealy said having all those weapons around her makes her job easier.

"Emily (Banitt), Halle, Anna, Haley (Graetz), Sarah; I can trust them all to put it down and it makes setting a lot easier," she said.

Banitt led the defense with 15 digs and Mariah Marg had 12 while Jenna Huppert drilled three service aces.

"Jenna was a bright spot coming into the match after some rough serving across the board," Coach Kealy said. "She delivered three aces under pressure."

In addition to being the team's home opener, last Thursday's match was also the Cats' annual Dig Pink cancer awareness fundraiser, and Kealy praised Hudson and both the Raider and Wildcat fans for making it a success.

"I'm really proud of the effort our two communities, not just us, but what Hudson put in to make this something special," she said. "The turnout was amazing and we were able to make a huge donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. We raised $1,700 from T-shirts alone, and that's not including the silent auction and other donations."

After playing just two matches in two weeks, the Wildcats have a busy week this week with matches at Ellsworth Tuesday, Sept. 11, and Menomonie Thursday, Sept. 13, before heading to Milwaukee for the Mizuno-Charger Rally. River Falls earned the No. 1 seed in the 27-team field and will open up play against last year's Division 2 state runner-up, Luxemburg-Casco and take on Kettle-Moraine Friday, Sept. 14. Luxemburg-Casco is currently ranked No. 10 in Division 2 while Kettle Moraine is No. 4.

"It's going to be awesome and I think our girls will rise to the occasion," Kealy said.

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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