Ellsworth, Prescott finish regular season with thriller
Volleyball is at its best when both teams playing produce long rallies, make crazy saves by diving on the floor to keep the ball alive, and are able to liven up the crowd with athletic attacks that send chills throughout the bodies of spectators.
That's the type of play Panthers and Cardinals fans saw at the Middle Border Conference matchup on Tuesday, Oct. 10 between Ellsworth and Prescott.
Ellsworth (8-5, 5-1) was able to clinch their second 3-0 sweep of the week against the Cardinals (6-9, 3-3), but unlike the Panthers' Monday night sweep against Plum City, Tuesday night's game was quite the thriller between two equally-matched teams.
Tuesday night's match featured three intense sets that ended in Ellsworth's favor with scores of 25-23, 25-23 and 25-20.
The Panthers claimed their largest lead of 8-1 in the first set of the match behind two kills from Claire and Mackenzie Kummer and a great save from libero Mallory Bleeker.
The Ellsworth student section also added to the team's momentum early on in the night. Panthers fans dressed in all white, while Prescott's student section sported pink shirts in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The two sections remained on their feet the entire match and kept the gym echoing with cheers and applause throughout the night.
Prescott was able to get a sideout with a Hope Miner outside hit, which was followed by the senior outside hitter sending over a service ace that Ellsworth couldn't recover. The momentum was on Prescott's side now, and the Cardinals were able to cut the lead to 11-13.
Another Mackenzie Kummer kill from the outside would bring the serve back to Ellsworth's side, but Prescott responded with a kill from their own go-to hitter, Katelyn Miller. Miller's serving and the Miner sisters' front-row play gave the Cardinals their first lead of the night, 15-14.
The rest of the first set would feature multiple lead switches with Miller and Mackenzie Kummer taking turns scoring points for their teams off of hard-hit kills, but after scores were tied 23-23, Ellsworth would claim the first set off of a Prescott serving error and a Mackenzie Kummer kill from the middle that went straight down the right side of Prescott's court.
Ellsworth and Prescott fans were in for a night of high-caliber volleyball.
Prescott scored the first point of the second set off of an Ellsworth service error, but another Mackenzie Kummer kill and a Kaitlyn Nugent dump that was sent to the middle of Prescott's court gave Ellsworth their first lead of the second set.
Ellsworth went on a few small two- and three-point runs by setting up Mackenzie Kummer who sent the ball to her go-to spot, the deep right corner of Prescott's side of the court. Bleeker's serving also helped the Panthers take a 17-11 lead before Prescott head coach Beth Charette called a timeout to help her team regroup.
The Cardinals came out of the timeout with a tip from Allie Murphy, which caught the Ellsworth blockers off guard. The Cardinals would get within two points at 15-17 before the Panthers went on a 4-0 run to bring the score to 21-15, but Prescott fought back and narrowed the deficit to one point at 23-24.
A Claire Kummer kill from the outside sealed the deal for the Panthers, giving them the second set at 25-23.
Despite being down 2-0, the Cardinals still came out swinging in the third set of the night, and took a slight lead early on. However, a few unforced Prescott errors including a silly rotation error led to a 10-7 Panthers lead.
Prescott regained the lead once more on a Miller kill, an ace from Ashley Rieken and an attacking error from Ellsworth, but the Cardinals ultimately came up short in stealing a set from the Panthers. The set and match were decided on a score of 25-20. Ellsworth was going home with another "W" to cap off the regular season.
"We just couldn't catch a break," coach Charette said. "Match point and we're in the net or match point and we hit one out-of-bounds; those little, tiny mistakes make big problems towards the end of the game."
Charette said that her team's blocking was not quite on against Ellsworth, which sometimes worked out to the Cardinals' advantage when their blockers didn't get a touch on Ellsworth hits that flew out-of-bounds. But when you're facing hitters like Mackenzie Kummer, having an off night in blocking is not ideal in the long run.
KiKi Carey led the Cardinals in digs (14), and also contributed five kills.
Murphy led the team in assists (11), while Miller carried the team in kills (11).
Hope Miner led the team's blocking with three solo and three assisted blocks, while her sister, Haley, recorded a single and solo block of her own.
Ellsworth's head coach Nicole Vande Berg said that Prescott is always a tough game for the Panthers because of the big rivalry between the two schools. "We came out a little rocky in the first set serving-wise, but we got that together toward the end," Vande Berg said. "It was a good win for us."
Vande Berg said the Panthers came out and played their game and relied on their strong blocking that has been consistent throughout the season. "Our kids are pretty disciplined when it comes to staying out of the net while blocking, and I think that made a big difference for us tonight."
Mackenzie Kummer was as reliable for the Panthers as always and led the team with four blocks, 18 kills and tied her sister Claire for most service aces on the team (two).
Nugent recorded 30 assists, and Nadia Sigler and Claire Kummer each completed 10 digs.
Vande Berg said that Sigler was big for the Panthers in their last two games of the regular season. "In the last two games, her defense has been outstanding," Vande Berg said. "She's big on that right side for us."
The Panthers finish off the 2017 season as the No. 2-ranked team in the Middle Border Conference behind St. Croix Central, while Prescott comes in ranked fourth behind Osceola.
The Division 2 WIAA seeding meeting was held on Wednesday, Oct. 11, and teams will kick off tournament play on Tuesday, Oct. 17.