A competitive showing against state-ranked Belle Plaine and a third place finish at the
Howard Lake tournament over the weekend left Central volleyball coach Sarah Hammers feeling good about the direction her team is headed after the first two weeks of action.
“We’re 4-3 for the first two weeks against tough competition. These weren’t easy
games,” she said. “Looking at the lineup, there’s a lot to work on, but we’re getting set in our lineup and I’m happy. I’m a happy coach right now.”
The Raiders opened the week with their first home game, a 3-1 loss to Glencoe-Silver Lake on Tuesday, Sept. 4, before taking on No. 6 rated Belle Plaine in their first conference match, also a 3-1 loss, on Thursday, Sept. 6.
They followed up those games with wins over Eden Valley-Watkins (EVW), Melrose and
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) in tournament play to go along with a loss to Maple Grove. The two teams finishing ahead of Central at the eight-team tournament, Buffalo and Maple Grove, are from much larger schools, so Hammers was pleased with that outcome.
“I’m really glad with the way the day went. It was a good showing for us,” she said.
Central 1, GSL 3
The Raiders took to their home court for the first time in the season on Tuesday, but on a night when GSL senior Clarissa Ober surpassed 1,000 career kills, the most in GSL
history, the game belonged to the Panthers.
“GSL is obviously strong this year with Ober being a senior,” said Hammers. “Ober is a good player. We just couldn’t stop her. That was the key to that game.”
The Panthers took the first game 25-14, but the Raiders battled back for a 25-18 victory in game two. Central managed just 16 points in each of the final two games, however, to take the loss.
“It was Parents Night, our first home game, so there were some nerves there. We
definitely had a lot of errors on our side that we’re working on fixing,” said Hammers.
Nicole Miller led the team in kills with 16, and added two aces and 20 digs to her evening. Lexi Erpenbach added nine kills and nine digs, Sami Jo Brinkmann had seven kills and three solo blocks, and Brooke Willemsen added six kills.
Natalie Stockman led the team with 21 assists and Abby Forner added 15 helpers. Kaylie Brazil had a team-high 24 digs, with Stockman adding 16 digs.
“Hopefully if we see them again we can give them a better run, but Ober is a legit playe
r and I don’t want to take anything away from her,” said Hammers. “We didn’t play the way we did against Belle Plaine. If we would have played that way it could have been a different outcome, but that’s what it is.”
Central 1, Belle Plaine 3
The Raiders had a tough draw for their first conference competition in Belle Plaine, but they came out and popped the Tigers on the snout in a surprising first game, a 25-23 win for Central.
“It was a great first game coming back from a disappointing loss to GSL. If we were going to lose I obviously wanted it to be in five games or even four, but Belle Plaine is
solid,” said Hammers. “We came out with nothing to lose and we played great.”
Belle Plaine won the next three sets, but Central hung with the Tigers in each of those games. The final scores were 25-19, 25-21 and 25-17.
“It was a tough game but it was fun,” said Hammers. “Overall, I’m really excited about the game. We played great scrappy defense and didn’t let balls drop. We competed. That’s the thing — we may not have the best volleyball players, but we have competitors. Think about Brooke and Lexi playing basketball since they were freshmen on varsit
y, Natalie being a star pitcher as a sophomore. I mean, these girls are athletes and they’ll compete, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Miller again led the team with 16 kills, and also added 14 digs. Erpenbach had eight kills and 12 digs while Brinkmann added five kills. Stockman and Forner set up the hitters with 19 and 15 assists, respectively.
Stockman also led the team in digs with 16, while Brazil added 14.
“It was a great night,” said Hammers. “I was really excited about the way we played
and we had a great response, even from some Belle Plaine fans.”
After falling behind in the first game of the tournament against EVW, the Raiders fought back and eventually pulled out a nail-biting 30-28 win. They followed that up with a 25-19 victory in the second and final game of the opening matchup.
In the second game, Central fell 22-25 and 13-25 to Maple Grove, which eventually advanced to the championship.
In the final contest of pool play, the Raiders notched a pivotal 2-1 victory over Melrose
after dropping the first set (23-25, 25-23, 15-12). In the second set the Raiders rallied at the last minute after trailing 23-20, and overcame disappointment when a 24-23 point had to be replayed after what looked like a victory.
“We had to win that point again. They fought for it and competed. Winning the third game was huge for us,” said Hammers.
That win earned the Raiders a place in the third place match against the hosting Lakers, and Central closed out the day with a 2-0 win (25-19, 25-21).