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Volleyball: Playoffs are here

The WIAA volleyball playoffs begin Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. (File photo)

The 2018 WIAA volleyball playoffs are set to begin tonight, and three of the five Pierce County teams will be traveling to face their higher-seeded opponents for the first round of regionals.

Here’s a brief preview of the first-round games, which are all scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Division 2 Sectional 1

No. 3-seeded Ellsworth Panthers vs. No. 14-seeded Northwestern Tigers

The Panthers completed their regular season with a 21-6 record and a 3-2 loss to the Osceola Chieftains who nudged Ellsworth out of a Middle Border Conference co-champion spot. Aside from the Panthers’ obvious talent, Ellsworth’s recent loss and their return to their home court that always provides a challenging atmosphere for their opponents to play in doesn’t help the Tigers’ chances of pulling off an unlikely upset in tonight’s first-round game. Northwestern competes in the Heart O’North Conference where they finished 1-8 and 4-24 overall. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 2-0 at Northwestern’s own invite on Saturday, Sept. 22, and it’d be shocking if similar results didn’t come out of tonight’s match, too.

No. 9-seeded Prescott Cardinals at No. 8-seeded Rice Lake Warriors

The Warriors are led by senior middle and outside hitter Jasmine Mlejnek who has recorded 273 kills this season. For context, according to Max Preps, the national average is 43 kills. Mlejnek is one of eight seniors on the Warriors’ roster, similar to Prescott’s six-member senior class. The Warriors finished the regular season with three more wins than the Cardinals and competed in a talented Big Rivers conference where they finished third behind the No. 1 state-ranked, Division 1 River Falls Wildcats and the Division 1 Eau Claire North Huskies. The Cardinals will need to rely on their blocking to ease the blow of Mlejnek’s attacks if they want to make it past the first round of regionals.

 Division 3 Sectional 1

No. 6-seeded Spring Valley Cardinals vs. No. 3-seeded Elk Mound Mounders

The two Dunn-St. Croix Conference teams will face off for the second time this season to begin their playoff campaigns. Elk Mound served the Cardinals a 3-0 loss at home on Thursday, Sept. 27, but the Cardinals showed an impressive comeback attempt in Set 3 before ultimately losing 25-23 to end the night. The Cardinals came out tentative at the net against the Mounders in their September matchup, but quickly began to embrace the challenge presented by Elk Mound’s top hitter Morgan Radtke in their improved blocking and back row play. Radtke, the Mounder’s senior middle hitter, finished the night with 18 kills, and her team recorded a marginal three receiving errors against the Cardinals. Spring Valley will have to come out with high energy and confidence at the start of Set 1 in order to show the Mounders that they’re not settling for another 3-0 loss.

Division 4 Sectional 1

No. 8-seeded Elmwood Raiders vs. No. 9-seeded Cornell Chiefs

The Raiders will co-op with the Plum City Blue Devils in the 2019 season, and they’re hoping to claim a win in their final home game as Elmwood’s separate team. Elmwood finished the regular season with an 8-19 overall record, and finished seventh in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference where they competed against seven Division 3 schools. Cornell comes out of the East Lakeland Conference where they finished 4-6 against six other Division 4 schools. Cornell comes into the playoffs with a 4-16 regular season record and a six-game losing streak, but shouldn’t be underestimated by the Raiders who received a playoff seed just slightly better than their guests. Raiders’ head coach Amanda Webb her team would be focusing heavily on passing as the regular season concluded, and improved back row play would complement Elmwood’s strong potential at the net as the team tries to conclude their time as Raiders on a high note.

No. 14-seeded Plum City Blue Devils at No. 3-seeded Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran Lancers

Plum City’s 0-22 regular season record sends them to Eau Claire on Tuesday night where they’ll face the 16-8 Lancers who finished tied for second in the Dairyland Conference this season. Geoffrey Snyder took over as the inexperienced Blue Devils’ coach this season and has helped his new team make steady improvements over the course of the season, but Plum City’s boosted comfortability on the court has yet to amount to the team’s first win of the season. The Blue Devils have only claimed one set win this season, and doing so on the road against a third-seeded team will be a difficult challenge for the No. 14 team tonight.