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by Marlys Kruger
After giving up their Dunn- St. Croix Conference title to the Glenwood City Hilltoppers a year ago, the Colfax volleyball team came back with a vengeance, finishing off their perfect 7-0 conference record with a three-set win over those same Hilltoppers Thursday, October 14.
But just two days before, they had all they could handle when they faced the only other undefeated team in the conference, the Elmwood/Plum City Wolves. It took five sets and extra points,but the Vikings came from behind for the 3-2 win in front of a loud and excited home crowd.
Colfax began regional tournament play at Cameron Tuesday, October 19 as a number nine seed. If they win against the number eight-seed Comets, they would take on number one seed Unity in Balsam Lake.
A year ago, the COVID-19 issue played havoc on several teams, including the Vikings who had to miss several games because of it. The last conference match of the season played by Colfax and Glenwood City was won by the Toppers and they were declared the D-SC Conference champions for the first time in school history. Prior to that, the Vikings had won seven consecutive conference titles, starting in 2013.
The two teams ended the regular season against each other again but this time Colfax already had a share of the conference title and were looking to win it outright. The Hilltoppers lost a few key players from last year and were winless in conference play which can sometimes be dangerous.
The Vikings were more than ready however as they won 25-9, 25-19, 25-6. The team served up ten aces and were well balanced in all the other stats as well. Jeanette Hydukovich led the team in kills with 11 and served up two aces and picked up six digs, Madison Barstad slammed nine kills, added a pair of aces and nine digs, one block and 16 assists, Maci Harvey finished with four kills, one block and nine digs and Jada Anderson tacked on four kill shots, a trio of aces and nine digs.
Adding to the point total was Aliyah Rihn with three kills while McKenna Shipman served up two aces and set her teammates up 14 times, and senior Katelyn Sarauer did her job in the back row with six digs. (In last week’s writeup Katelyn was not identified as one of the senior players for Colfax. Sorry!)
The Wolves have been quietly building themselves a pretty solid volleyball team and it began to show this season. Coming into Colfax undefeated in conference play, they were fired up and they jumped out to an 11-6 lead.
The Vikings battled back to tie it at 12-12 on a Harvey kill only to give the lead back, down 14-12. A couple of Colfax errors allowed E-PC to move up 20-15, forcing the Vikings to come back again. Kills by Hydukovich and Anderson brought them closer, down 20-19 and the score was knotted at 21-21 and 22-22 on another Hydukovich slam. Barstad scored on a quick kill shot and another slam, and Harvey put the ball to the floor for set point at 25-22.
The Vikings took control of the second set, taking the lead at 11-6, and after a Harvey service ace it was 19-11. Barstad and Hydukovich added kills with Sarauer serving for a 23-14 lead, and Hydukovich took control of the net with a kill and a final block for the 25-15 win of the set.
Whether the Vikings were overly excited or the Wolves were just more fired up, Colfax found themselves behind 7-0 in the third set. Six of the Wolves points came on Viking errors, either by kill attempts going into the net or out of bounds. Colfax finally came to life and with a Barstad tip and kill along with two aces by Harvey and her own kill, they were down just 7-5.
The Wolves pulled ahead 17-12 with a few kills by Isabella Forster and some more Colfax mis-plays, however and they continued to pull away to win the set 25-15.
The Vikings needed to regroup and get their focus back but the Wolves had all the momentum at this point. But Barstad, Hydukovich, Harvey and Anderson were taking control at the net and they held anywhere from a 2-5 point advantage through most of the set. They were up 18-13 and looking like they might cruise to the end, but E-PC had other ideas. With Colfax up 21-16, the Wolves went on a three-point run to get closer and after a Harvey kill, it was set and match point for Colfax at 24-21.
E-PC, however, scored the next three points on a tip shot, a Viking error and ace serve for a 24-24 tie. Colfax scored on a shot that was touched at the net by E-PC but another tip by the Wolves made it 25-25. Barstad slammed a kill but they couldn’t put the Wolves away and it was knotted at 26-26 on another tip. Barstad again scored on a slam which was countered by a E-PC kill, and the Wolves went up on another kill to the middle of the floor to go up by one. Colfax then sent a kill attempt out of bounds, resulting in a 29-27 win for the Wolves and we moved into a fifth set.
Colfax fell behind 4-0 and 6-2 before Anderson scored on a kill and after she followed that by serving up a few points with a couple of aces, the Vikings were up 11-9. But E-PC knotted it at 11-11 on a kill, and went ahead 13-11 on a Colfax error on a kill attempt and their own kill.
Keeping in mind the fifth set only goes to 15 points, things appeared rather bleak for the home team at this point.
Colfax coach Pam Meredith called a time out and came up with one of her inspiring speeches that she has often used to rally her players. It worked quickly as Harvey slammed a kill, but that was countered by another Forster kill and the Vikings had their backs against the wall, down 14-12. Meredith called another time out and Barstad came up huge again with another kill and a solo block, combined with a Shipman ace serve to make it 15-14. Then Harvey had the honor of sealing the conference championship with a big kill shot for the 16-14 set and match win.
“Oh, I did the fight or flight speech when we were down 14-12 in the final set,” Meredith said. “We were one point away from a loss. I said never stop trying because you never know what can happen. Pursue the ball, stay fundamentally strong and mentally engaged. Essentially, E-PC ‘stole’ set four from us as we were one point from winning the match several times. But instead we ‘steal’ the fifth set from them since they were one point away from winning the match,” she added.
Colfax totaled 53 kills in the match and had only four service errors. But the team had 32 errors on net shots or out of bounds plays in the match. Barstad finished with 23 kills, 15 assists and one blocked shot and Harvey slammed ten kills, served three aces and excelled in the back row with 30 digs. Hydukovich collected nine kills and one ace serve, Anderson totaled six kills, four aces with three assisted blocks, Rihn added a trio of kills, Shipman finished with two kills, three aces, 13 digs and 20 assists while Rachael Shipley did her part on defense with 13 digs..
Meredith had her thoughts on winning the conference championship in yet another trying year with schools dealing with COVID-19 issues.
“This is a great group of young, talented and strong young women who have not had the opportunity to play a lot of volleyball,” she said. “We haven’t had youth spring league in two years which would have affected our freshmen and sophomores. Last season, we only played six matches versus the usual 34 including conference games, weekend tournaments and quadrangular matches with very few practices due to WIAA pushing back the start date. We were also quarantined as a team for two weeks right before play-offs. The team growth from the start of this season through the final conference game is incredible,” she added.
“This was by far the most competitive the D-SC has been,” she continued. “We will continue to see this in the future. Many of the athletes in our conference are playing club volleyball and you can see the advanced skill level and increased volleyball IQ that more experience brings. The volleys are longer, the matches are more competitive, offenses are more creative and defenses are more dynamic!” she concluded.