Badgers advance to sectional final with sweep of Florence
By MATT “SWEETS” McCARTHY
NIAGARA, Wis. — A long time rivalry was renewed Thursday night, as No. 2 seed Niagara hosted No. 3 seed Florence in a WIAA girls volleyball sectional semifinal. The Lady Badgers defeated the LadyCats in straight sets (25-14, 25-18, 25-21) in what was a highly competitive match.
“We played very well in the first set, we came out with energy and had them where we wanted them to be,” said veteran Niagara head coach Carol St. Arnauld. “We made a couple mental errors and Florence scored some points off of them. But we did some things enabling us to win the set.”
Niagara’s strong serving and ball placement put them ahead 9-2 in a quick hurry, forcing Florence head coach Teresa Chrisman to call a time out.
“Right from the start of the first set, Niagara showed that they are a strong team,” Chrisman said. “A couple of our younger girls seemed intimidated, but we regrouped and fought back.”
Niagara’s dominance of the set stretched out their lead to 20-7. Florence got the ball and with six straight points behind the serving of freshman Isabella Millan, the Badgers’ 13-point lead was narrowed to 20-13. Niagara finished out the set outscoring the LadyCats 5-1.
“The second set, we were down the whole set. Florence played great and we were a bit off of our game,” St. Arnauld said.
As Florence’s lead grew, so did their confidence, as their serving throughout the second set was excellent. Niagara wasn’t in their usual rhythm and seemed rattled by Florence’s scoring outburst.
There were also several long rallies in set No. 2, which were mostly won by the LadyCats.
“Our play in the second set, seemed to inspire the girls. They played harder and were more confident,” Chrisman said.
All of a sudden, Niagara’s play did what seemed like a 180-degree turn. Their communication picked up and their set placements were great for their front row hitters. The Badgers took the lead in the set and won by a seven-point margin, despite Florence controlling 75% of the set.
“Passing and serving, I tell the girls that’s what we need to do well at, the rest takes care of itself,” St. Arnauld said. “We only missed two serves tonight in three sets, that’s incredible. Hats off to the girls.”
In the final set, Abigail Wells’ serving was very dominant. She had a scoring run of a half dozen in a row, extending the Badgers’ lead to 17-4. The remainder of the final set was a bit see-saw, as Florence never gave up fighting back. They played extremely hard right to the end of the match.
“We had some good blocks and touches at the net, which is something we struggled with at times this season,” said St. Arnauld. “Bailey (Pearson) and Alyssa (Cretton) dominated at the net again tonight.”
Cretton led the team with 14 digs and four aces, while adding 15 kills. Pearson led with 17 kills.
“Morgan Borchardt is a really good setter. When a team has strong hitters which Niagara does, Borchardt is a key for them,” Chrisman said. Borchardt, a sophomore, had a team-high 28 assists for Niagara.
A win on their home floor, in what could be their last home match, is something that St. Arnauld wanted for her team.
“It leaves a sour taste in your mouth, to lose on your home floor to end the season, especially for the seniors,” she said.
Chrisman was very proud of the fight her team showed on the night, but also throughout the season. “They were like this all season, no quit in them. I am proud to be their coach and look forward to next season,” Chrisman said.
“Teresa has done a great job with these kids. They’re young and are only going to get better. She’s going to do well for that program,” St. Arnauld said.
With the win, Niagara advances to play the winner of the other sectional semifinal between No. 4 seed Wausaukee at No. 1 seed Three Lakes. That match was postponed until tonight due to inclement weather. The sectional final will be held Saturday night at 7 p.m. at either Three Lakes or Niagara, whichever team is the highest seed remaining.