by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Facing a serious threat of elimination, Central volleyball pulled through in games four and five on the road over Holy Family in Victoria last Thursday to advance in the Section 2AA north sub-section, 2-3.
With the win, #5 Central (17-11) earned a rematch with top-seeded Belle Plaine (21-5), who beat them 3-1 in NYA. This time, the teams faced off in a neutral court in New Prague on Tuesday night.
The winner of the match goes onto play either #6 Watertown-Mayer or #2 Jordan tonight, Oct. 31, at Gustavus Adolphus College with the winner of that playing for a trip to state on Saturday, Nov. 2, at GAC.
Central 3, Holy Family 2
Trailing 2-1 heading into game four against a Holy Family team that swept them earlier in the season, Central managed to pull through and win the last two games for the match.
Game scores were 25-20, 22-25, 25-14, 19-25 and 7-15.
Game four started close knotted at 2-2 as Megan Knickerbocker recorded a kill in the early going. Central was able to take an early advantage though getting four straight points with Kaylie Brazil serving. Sami Jo Brinkmann got the Raiders a point with a block, Ashley Luskey followed with a kill and Brinkmann added a kill before Brazil recorded an ace.
Holy Family would quickly cut the deficit to 7-8 though and the game went back and forth until a Knickerbocker kill gave tied the game at 12-12.
Nicole Miller recorded two aces as Central went ahead 12-15, but the Fire tied it up again.
Abby Forner gave the Raiders a lead with a block and with Brazil serving, Luskey recorded two kills to put Central ahead 15-19, a lead they would hold.
Luskey, one of eight seniors on the team, said practice is paying off for her team.
“We’ve all been together for like 10 years, so we all know how we interact and how we play together,” she said. “It’s easy for us know what strengths we all have.”
That team support helped Luskey individually too as she credited Nicole Miller for her guidance.
“Having CoCo (Miller) tell me where to hit (helped),” she said, “just go in confident and not worrying if I’m hitting it out,”
Head coach Sarah Hammers said switching Brazil to middle back improved the team’s defense, along with changes offensively.
“We had a different outside almost every game and that’s something we’ve been struggling with all season and this is a game where Ashley stepped up when we needed her too,” she said. “It’s just one of those things where we’re lucky we’ve got that depth and that we can put different people out there.”
Hammers said as Holy Family focused on Nicole Miller, her team was able to pass it around and go middle, where Luskey and others hit their spots.
“The one thing is good is we need someone to hit the deep corners and with Ashley’s natural topspin she’s able to do,” said Hammers. “I told her I’d rather she block than hit it out. She played very controlled and she played like a team and that’s what we needed.”
Game five was all Central as Knickerbocker and Nicole Miller recorded early kills before a tie at 2-2.
Abby Forner later recorded a kill for a 2-4 advantage and Luskey got a kill to expand it to 2-6. Nicole Miller would record a pair of kills in the next stretch, as her second gave Brinkmann the serve, ahead 7-11.
Brinkmann recorded two aces, Knickerbocker got a kill and Nicole Miller hit the finisher for the match win.
Brinkmann led the Raiders with 17 kills while Nicole Miller had 15 and Knickerbocker was also in double-digits with 11.
The Raiders were near perfect from the service line as a team (99-100) as Brazil went 28-28 with two aces, Nicole Miller went 18-19 with four aces, Forner went 16-16, Brinkmann went 11-11 with an ace, Natalie Stockman went 13-13 with an ace, Wickenhauser went 9-9 and Megan Miller went 4-4.
Stockman recorded 43 assists to pace Central.
Defensively, Brinkmann had six total blocks, Stockman had three and Forner had two. Four Raiders had double-digit digs as Brazil led the way with 17, Nicole Miller had 12 and Stockman and Wickenhauser each had 10 apiece.
Brazil also had 30 service receptions, Nicole Miller had 26, Megan Miller had 14 and Wickenhauser was also in double digits with 10.
Looking ahead to Belle Plaine, Luskey said she and her teammates need to keep putting forth the extra effort defensively.
“We just need to work on our blocking and be sure we at least get a touch on everything, diving for everything,” she said.
Head coach Sarah Hammers agreed that blocking was key as Central looks to advance.
“Anytime you get a section win it’s huge,” she said. “I told the girls they have until noon tomorrow to celebrate and then we focus on Tuesday… We need to come in ready to play. Blocking is going to be key and I have the tape so I’m going to see exactly what we got to do to pick them apart.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at email@example.com.