Central goes 4-3, takes third at tourney

Sami Jo Brinkmann goes up for a kill during Central’s 3-0 loss to Mound-Westonka on Tuesday, Sept. 18. Photo by Paul Downer

With a 4-3 record in a full slate of games last week, the Central volleyball team improved its overall record to 9-7 last week.

Central defeated Kimball 4-1 on Sept. 17, then lost 3-0 at home to Mound-Westonka the following day in nonconference action.

The Raiders fell to 0-3 in the Minnesota River Conference with a five-game loss to Tri-City United on Sept. 20, but rebounded with three wins and a loss at the Sibley East Tournament on Sept. 22 to take third place.

“We’re 9-7. I’m happy with that. We’re making improvements,” said Raiders head coach Sarah Hammers.

Central 3, Kimball 1
The Raiders went on the road to start the week and recovered from an opening game loss at Kimball to win a hard-fought match (23-25, 26-24, 25-21, 25-19).

“I don’t think we were ready to play the first game, but we hit .343 the second game. It was a really good game. The girls built up the confidence to finish the match in four,” said Hammers.

Sami Jo Brinkmann led the way with 13 kills and three solo blocks. Nicole Miller had 11 kills, Lexi Erpenbach had nine kills and Brooke Willemsen had eight kills.

Kaylie Brazil had 25 digs to lead the defense, and Natalie Stockman had 20 digs and 21 assists.

Central 0, M-W 3
The White Hawks simply overpowered the Raiders in the first game the following day, but the Raiders made things interesting in the second two games (25-12, 25-27, 22-25).

“We knew they were going to be tough, but if we had come out stronger the first game we could have won the second or third,” said Hammers. “A lot of it is just about confidence. The second and third games, we were up both those games. We’re working on wanting the ball at the end of the game, wanting to put it away and making that play. Right now, we don’t have a lot of players that are confident enough to do that. They get nervous and don’t swing as hard.

“We have to work for every single point. It doesn’t mean we’re not good volleyball players, but nothing is going to come easy with our schedule.”

Miller had 15 kills and 14 digs with a block in the game, and Brinkmann had 12 kills. Brazil had 19 digs and Stockman tallied 19 assists and 11 digs.

Central 2, Tri-City 3
An evenly matched conference match against the Titans swung Tri-City’s way in the deciding fifth game after an official’s call that Hammers disputed, but she didn’t pin the loss entirely on that official (20-25, 25-17, 11-25, 25-20, 15-17).

“It doesn’t matter who we play in our conference, we have to be ready to play. Losing that third game 11-25 hurt us, but we came back and won the fourth game and played hard the fifth. We just didn’t get the call at the end of the game,” she said.

Hammers also gave credit to the Titans for playing strong defense.

“Their libero is outstanding. She comes flying in from everywhere. She’s probably the best libero in the conference,” said Hammers. “Luckily she’s a senior.”

Miller had 20 kills and 19 digs in the game, while Brinkmann had 14 kills and four blocks. Erpenbach added 12 kills and 14 digs, Brazil had a team-high 19 digs and Stockman had 20 assists and 16 digs. Abby Forner also contributed 20 assists and 10 digs.

Sibley East tournament
Despite the disappointment of the previous match, the Raiders had a strong performance at Sibley East over the weekend with a third place performance.

In the opening contest, the Raiders split with Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop but earned the win by scoring more points (25-17, 19-25).

Team leaders included Brinkmann (seven kills, five blocks), Miller (six kills, seven digs), Erpenbach (five kills), Brazil (seven digs) and Stockman (11 assists).

In the second game the Raiders swept New Ulm 26-24 and 25-18. Miller led the way with nine kills and seven digs, while Erpenbach had six kills and Brazil had seven digs.

“They haven’t won a lot of games, but they’re still a pretty good team,” said Hammers.

Central dominated another good team in Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial in the third victory, holding LCWM to just eight points in the first game (25-8, 25-21). Miller was an almost unstoppable force during the match, hitting at a .778 clip on the way to 14 kills.
“That hitting percentage is pretty unbelievable,” said Hammers. “She was really solid for us. She was swinging aggressive, she was going hard after the ball and she was transitioning.”

Stockman had 13 assists, and Brazil had a team-high six digs.

The Raiders finished the tournament with a 2-0 loss to Springfield (18-25, 22-25).

“We came up flat in our serve receive game. When we don’t pass, our hitting isn’t there,” said Hammers.

Miller had nine kills and Erpenbach had seven. Stockman had 17 assists and a team-leading eight digs.

Hammers made a number of adjustments during the game and will continue evaluating her lineup in the coming matches. She singled out a number of players for recognition.

“Sami is working hard. We need her to be stronger in the middle. Nicole is getting the swings for us, and when she works for us she’ll get points. I like Brooke in the middle. Lexi is performing better, getting more kills and being more consistent,” she said.

“If we keep improving, we can see some more Ws.”