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Ellsworth's 3-0 win over Osceola closer than it looks on paper

Kaitlyn Nugent sets up Avery O'Neil against Osceola on Tuesday, Oct. 3. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Libero Mallory Bleeker keeps the ball alive after a River Falls attack on Thursday, Oct. 5. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Senior Morgan Kummer sends a hit Osceola's way in the first set of the conference matchup on Tuesday, Oct. 3. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

Ellsworth vs. Osceola

Don't let the boxscore fool you. The 3-0 win for the Ellsworth Panthers volleyball team against the Osceola Chieftains was a much closer matchup than the final results show.

The Panthers, now (11-4, 5-1) were able to pull off a three-set sweep against their conference opponents on Tuesday, Oct. 3, but the Chieftains (7-14, 2-3) proved themselves to be more than just a mid-ranked Middle Border Conference team that was to be taken seriously.

Each set was closely matched with final scores of 25-21, 25-17 and 25-22.

The first set featured multiple lead switches until the Panthers pulled away at 22-18 after Brooke Minder's kill, which prompted Osceola to take a timeout to try to salvage the first set of the night. But a few hitting errors from Osceola followed by a tip from setter Kaitlyn Nugent, a Morgan Kummer kill and perfect serving from Ellsworth secured the set win for the Panthers.

The second set started off similarly to the first with tied scores at 7-7 and then again at 13-13. The Panthers were able to create a more comfortable lead of 21-16 with the strong net play of Kummer and Claire Kummer's serving, which rattled Osceola's serve receive. Morgan and Claire Kummer each recorded two aces in the night's match. The two sisters also shared the spotlight in the back row where they both contributed 12 digs apiece.

More hitting errors hurt the Chieftains, and the Panthers were able to claim the second set 25-17.

Ellsworth seemed to get into their groove in the third set, and took a 5-1 lead before Osceola used a timeout to regroup. The Panthers were able to maintain a four-to-five-point lead for most of the match until the Chieftains crept back to narrow the deficit to three points at 19-16. However, the Panthers answered with Nugent setting up Morgan Kummer for a couple of quick points, which gave the Panthers the momentum they needed to seal the set and the match.

"I thought we played pretty well, especially in the first set." head coach Nicole Vande Berg said after the game. "Our serving has been a struggle lately, but in set one we didn't miss a serve, so that was nice to see."

Vande Berg was also pleased with how her team hit against Osceola's "big kids" whose blocking has been a strong asset for the Chieftains.

Mackenzie Kummer worked her magic at the net, and recorded 17 kills and three blocks, leading the Panthers in both categories. Vande Berg said that the junior middle hitter is always a reliable blocker for the team.

Kaitlyn Nugent, Ellsworth's sophomore setter, added 30 assists to her team's win.

"Overall, I thought we played well. We have to get our passing up, but I thought our offense was good," Nugent said. "Next time we just have to make sure we win—not necessarily by more—but just make sure we stay strong and not give up at the end."

Ellsworth vs. River Falls

The Panthers traveled to River Falls on Thursday, Oct. 5 to take on the undefeated Wildcats to end their week of play. This time, Ellsworth was the team sent home after an 0-3 loss.

"We know River Falls is a good team," Vande Berg said after Tuesday night's match. "They were down at state last year, and I think they're even better this year, so we've got to mix up our offense to try to move their block around and work out some serve receive stuff so we're ready, and we'll do what we can."

River Falls proved Vande Berg's Tuesday night sentiments to be true—they really are a good team. The 11-0 Wildcats came out hot and created a dreadful match for the Panthers who lost the first set 5-25.

"We walked onto the court in the first game scared," Vande Berg said Thursday night.

The Panthers gained a little more confidence in the second set, and only lost by seven rather than 20 points, which ended with an 18-25 final score.

The third set was Ellsworth's best of the night—the Panthers only lost by seven points (19-25)—but the team would still leave River Falls with one more loss on the season despite their improvement as the night progressed.

"It was good for our team to face someone of that caliber and see what that type of offensive power looks like across the net," Vande Berg said after Thursday night's loss. "It really pushed our blockers to communicate, understand blocking responsibilities and often times solo block."

Mackenzie Kummer led the Panthers with five blocks on the night. The junior Kummer sister also carried the team in kills (14).

Vande Berg was impressed with how her team played defensively, especially Mallory Bleeker who led the Panthers with nine digs. "We made some really good digs and had some nice plays at the net, but we just couldn't turn those digs into offense," Ellsworth's head coach said. "With the offensive weapons River Falls has, you have to make that happen or they will put the ball away."

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