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Make that three straight: Spikers claim third straight BRC title

River Falls' Maddi Kealy (5) blocks a shot as teammate Haley Graetz (4) provides support in the first set of the Wildcats' 3-0 win over Chippewa Falls Thursday, Oct. 4, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
Wildcat junior Emily Banitt drills a kill between two Chippewa Falls defenders in the first set of the Cats' 3-0 win over the Cardinals Thursday, Oct. 4, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Wildcat junior Halle Olson follows through on a kill in the Cats' 3-0 win over Chippewa Falls Thursday, Oct. 4, in River Falls. Olson recorded her 1,000th career kill in the match. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

The Wildcat volleyball team was up 24-9 in the third set and one point away from clinching its third straight Big Rivers Conference title Thursday, Oct. 4, against Chippewa Falls when head coach Sara Kealy called a timeout.

"I wanted to talk to the girls before the match ended and everything got chaotic," she said. "I told them how proud I am of them. They dominated our conference this season. There was a time when our coaching staff wasn't sure we would win a conference title, we were simply focused on building the foundation and competing. Year by year there was growth as we built toward the success we are experiencing now. It's impressive and something I want them to be equally proud of."

The Wildcats capped their third straight undefeated BRC season with an emphatic 25-16, 25-11, 25-9 victory over the second-place Cardinals.

Junior Halle Olson led a balanced River Falls attack with eight kills, including the 1,000th of her career, while hitting a team-high .434. Classmate Emily Banitt and sophomore Anna Wolf added seven kills each and freshman Haley Graetz contributed five while Olson also drilled three service aces.

Junior setter Maddi Kealy dished out 29 assists and senior Sarah Langlois had seven blocks while senior Mariah Marg came up with nine digs.

The Wildcats went on to win five more matches Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Cannon Falls (Minn.) Invitational to improve to 36-2-0 on the season. The Cats swept all five matches, beating St. Croix Lutheran 25-11, 25-0, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 25-11, 25-12, Simley 25-20, 25-16, and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown 25-16, 25-23, before taking care of Tartan, 25-19, 25-16, in the finals.

"This is our fourth weekend tournament in a row," Kealy noted. "This tourney wasn't quite as intense as some of the ones we have played in this season, but it was an opportunity to put some new things that we have worked on into match play."

Olson drilled a team-high 37 kills on the day and Wolf had 34 while Graetz recorded nine blocks and Marg had 30 digs. Olson and junior Abby Doerre finished with nine service aces each.

"We had nine service aces in the second set alone (against Tartan)," Kealy said.

Maddi Kealy racked up 87 assists before going down with an ankle injury late in the first set against Tartan. Sophomore Maddie Morrow stepped in and finished with 45 assists on the day.

"Maddie Morrow stepped in and played a solid match," Coach Kealy said. "It was neat to see her settle into the groove of our offense. We talked in the huddle about how every athlete on our team is talented and capable. When one person in our lineup changes, they need to play with confidence and the rest of the players on the court need to step up their level of play in order to support them. I was so impressed with the girls; they did just that."

The Wildcats will wrap up the regular season with a pair of nonconference matches at home Tuesday, Oct. 9, against Hill-Murray and Thursday, Oct. 11, against Prescott.

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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