Tigers cannot hold on to two-set lead, fall in five to end historic season
By Paul Lecker
GREEN BAY — After a pair of comeback wins in sectional play, the Stratford volleyball team found itself in defensive mode during its Division 3 semifinal on Friday afternoon at the 2017 WIAA State Girls Volleyball Tournament at Resch Center.
The Tigers looked like the better team for the first two sets before Eau Claire Regis turned the tables and pulled out a 3-2 victory over Stratford. Regis won 23-25, 15-25, 25-14, 25-20, 19-17 to move on to Division 3 state championship match, which will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. The Ramblers (26-6) face Lake Country Lutheran (44-5), which defeated Waterloo 3-2 in the other semifinal Friday.
“We have no reason to hang our heads at this point,” Stratford coach Brooke Kafka said. “It was an amazing season for all of us. We were put in some positions where we were down and had to dig ourselves out of a hole, and it just came a little too close at the end.”
A back-and-forth first set, which neither team led by more than two points, ended with a late Stratford run. The Tigers were down 22-21 before scoring three points in a row, one on a Callie Lehman kill, and ended it on a kill from Makayla Krall to win 25-23.
Stratford (44-2) dominated the second set and looked well on its way to playing for a state title.
Krall had five kills, and Mazie Nagel added three as the Tigers rolled to a 25-15 win and a 2-0 lead.
However, an 11-0 run in the middle of the third set turned things around for the Ramblers.
After a sideout earned on a Stratford service error, Elle Matson served 10 points in a row to put Regis up 17-7 and the Tigers got no closer than seven the rest of the way before falling 25-14.
Regis jumped out to an 11-2 lead in Game 4 before it was the Tigers’ turn to come back.
Freshman Lauryn Nagel had two kills in a 7-2 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 20-18 lead for Stratford, and things seemed to be looking up again. That feeling quickly changed. Following a sideout, Regis scored the last six points of the game on the serve of Ariel Kern to finish off a 25-20 win and knot the match at two games apiece.
“I feel like the communication, we could have been a lot better, and things weren’t going in our favor,” Krall said.
Kafka said both teams were countering with different adjustments during the third and fourth set, and the Tigers just could not regain the success they were enjoying in the first two sets.
“We talked during our timeouts about different holes they had on their side of the court and where to put the ball, and immediately after we made those adjustments, so did they,” Kafka said.
The fifth-set tiebreaker was as tight as expected with both teams holding off numerous match points.
A kill from Krall and a violation on Regis allowed Stratford to stave off two match points and tie the game at 14-14.
The Tigers held off another match point with a kill from Mazie Nagel, and after an ace by Brooke Peterson gave Stratford a match point, Regis managed to tie it. Stratford had another match point at 17-16 before Regis finally ended the game with three-straight points.
“It sums up our season actually,” Regis coach Travis Eichner said. “We started super slow, got really good in the middle, and we’re finding ways to win. Our blocks were kicking in. Our defense was being scrappy. Our hitters were powering it in at the end of the game.”
Krall and Mazie Nagel each had 18 kills, Nagel and Olympia Garrigan both contributed 12 digs, and Jadyn Dahlke had 30 assists and 11 digs for Stratford.
“What a great season for these seniors to have,” Mazie Nagel, a junior, said. “The first time in school history (to make it to the state tournament), that’s groundbreaking, and I don’t think that’s anything to hang your heads about.”
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)