Volleyball: Florence beats Bowler to make regional final

Florence celebrates Thursday after beating Bowler in four sets and advancing to the regional finals. (Burt Angeli/The Daily News)

FLORENCE, Wis. — Florence avenged a sectional loss from last season and advanced in the WIAA Division 4 girls volleyball regional tournament Thursday.

The top-seeded Ladycats knocked off Bowler 3-1 (25-12, 23-25, 25-17, 25-17) to reach Saturday’s regional final with Wausaukee.

In the 2016 sectional at Lena, Bowler bounced a young Florence squad in three sets. Payback wasn’t a high priority in preparation for the Panthers.

“A little bit,” said Florence head coach Joan Canfield when asked if revenge was mentioned. “But at the same time it kind of plays heavy on your mind knowing that we had lost to them last year in the sectionals.

“But I knew we weren’t the same team as last year because we had the five sophomores and they have a little more experience.”

Bowler graduated four regulars from last year’s squad.

“Florence impressed me,” said Bowler head coach Brad Brei. “They covered very well and have good hitters.

“Last year they made a lot more mental mistakers. This time they kept their head in the game.”

The Ladycats (22-5-10) played some of their best volleyball of the season, according to Canfield.

“We were really moving and not letting a lot of things hit the floor,” Canfield said. “I’m impressed with my defense the most.”

After rolling through the first set, Florence claimed a 17-14 lead in the second after three straight kills from junior Sidnie Steber.

Bowler then came to life with a 10-2 surge.

“We can play tough,” Brei noted.

The Bobcats closed to within one after strong serving from Jenna Springer and kills from Bailey Apfel (two) and Alicia Gehlhoff. But the Panthers’ Reanne Kietlinski ended the set with a tip kill.

“I warned them after the first game, when you get to regionals and playoffs there’s no sitting back and taking it easy,” Canfield said. “You need to be intense and on your toes the whole time.”

The Ladycats took Canfield’s message to heart, taking charge in the final two sets.

They scored the last four points of the third set, posting kills from Apfel (two) and Steber, and a Cassie Larson ace. Steber had a nifty two-hand, cross-court shot to seal the win.

“Sidnie Steber did an excellent job of tipping across court,” said Canfield, noting five tip kills for the junior outside hitter.

In the fourth set, Florence overpowered Bowler. Shayla McLain nearly floored a defender with one of her 11 kills. Apfel, who had a team-high 12 kills, went off the court for a save and returned immediately to put down the ball down for a point.

Kietlinski led the Panthers in kills while Maranda Brei tallied seven kills with 14 assists. Kayla Pecore had three aces.

“When you lose four of your starters (from last year) it’s tough to rebuild,” said coach Brei, who started two sophomores. “They can play pretty good but tonight wasn’t our greatest night. We had too many serving errors and mental mistakes. You can’t do that in volleyball.”

Steber also registered nine kills and four ace serves. Cassie Larson and Jordyn Springer both served 100 percent. Karmen Anderson and Gehlhoff each had four kills.

Anderson also had 31 assists.

“That’s awesome,” Canfield said.

Courtney Messar’s 20 kills led Wausaukee past Elcho 3-2 (16-25, 24-26, 25-11, 25-22, 15-10) in another regional semifinal Thursday. Sirina Tyler added six aces and 34 digs, and Callie Orlando had 35 assists.

Florence will host Wausaukee at 7 p.m. Saturday. The winner meets Gresham or Three Lakes in a sectional semifinal.