To get to state again requires FC to get through the state's best

WIAA Division 3 Volleyball Shell Lake Sectional Tournament Preview

FALL CREEK - What was is like playing without a libero?

Let Fall Creek High School Head Prep Volleyball Coach Matt Prissel explain it for you

"When you have one of your best passers not on the floor, it's huge," Prissel said. "It's not something you exactly practice for and you can for our players they weren't sure how to react or go forward. Not to mention you her defense in the backrow as well."

Thus when senior Hannah Herrem went down with an ankle injury in Game 1 of the Crickets' WIAA Division 3 regional tournament championship game last week Saturday, Oct. 23 vs. Westby, FC lost both her passing to set up their offense and the digs she usually makes, over 500 in a four-year time span to set a school mark, it was a big loss.

"My body went one way and my ankle went another and folded," Herrem said.

But thanks to work from the team's trainers, Herrem was able to make her way back into the match and it had an electric affect on the team and the crowd of Fall Creek partisans in their home gym which helped carry the Crickets to a 3-0 win for their fourth regional championship in a row and entry into this weekend's Shell Lake Sectional Tournament, which begins Thursday, Oct. 28 as No. 3 ranked and top seeded Fall Creek hosts No. 2 seeded and No. 6 ranked La Crosse Aquinas at 7 p.m.

Stretching the ankle out and putting practically a whole role of tape on it helped to get Herrem back but she says the crowd played a role too.

"I just had adrennaline in me from the energy our fans provided," Herrem said. "It just made me feel great, feel so excited to out there and made it to where it felt more weak than sore to play and quite frankly I was more worried about not playing in this big match."

Herrem got to close out Game 1 from the service line helped by two kills and a block by teammate Tori Marten to win 25-18. In Herrem's absence FC went from a 5-0 lead to where Westby, 16-9 overall, and the No. 4 seed the tournament bracket, got as close as a couple points but no further. Fall Creek won Games 2 and 3 by scores of 25-20 and 25-18.

"We had a lot of players step up for us tonight," Prissel said. "Obviously Gianna (Vollrath) does what she does consistently, leading us in kills and we had some key points from Gracie Marten, a freshman in her first regional title match. Sam Olson just does so many things well for us from passing, serving, defense and like Gianna, very consistent. Tori (Marten) had another great match for us and Anika Steinke, Catrina Cline, Emalie Sorensen, just a lot of good performances that all adds up. And then you throw in our fans, the students, I mean they bring it too every match we play, here or on the road. We're going to need them out in force on Thursday against a very good Aquinas squad because believe me they are a big, big help."

Indeed, those who were hoping for another thriller between FC and their nearby rivals Osseo-Fairchild were no doubt disappointed the Thunder saw their 18-match winning streak snapped by the 28-5 Blugolds but it showed the prowess Aquinas has winning in three straight against an O-F squad which took FC to the limit in five game during the regular season. Instead, the Blugolds were led by their kill leader, senior outside hitter Jacy Weisbrod with 24 while junior setter Macy Donarski had 45 assists and junior outside hitter Shealyn Bahr had 12 digs and senior libero Bailey Theutsch had 10 digs against O-F in winning 25-11, 28-26 and 25-20.

Aquinas has won seven straight matches and finished runner up to regional champion Holmen (28-2) in the largely Division 1 populated Mississippi Valley Conference. And if FC does get past Aquinas, more than likely they will face another ranked opponent, No. 5 Unity, 34-1, which dispatched Grantsburg 3-1 to win its regional tournament. The Eagles take on another No. 2 seed, old rival St. Croix Falls, whop downed Phillips 3-1 to win its regional, in the other sectional semifinal on Thursday, Oct. 28. Unity won the West Lakeland Conference with a perfect 10-0 record while St. Croix Falls, 18-3 overall, went a perfect 9-0 in the Heart O'North Conference. Unity's lone loss came to Cumberland in a weekend tournament but the Eagles have beaten Division 4 ranked Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran.

Often times this sectional tournament match-ups are based on strength of scheduled, particularly strength of conference and Fall Creek can be confident of having won a tough Cloverbelt league when teams like Stanley-Boyd, Chippewa Falls McDonell and Marshfield Columbus.

"We look at every match trying to go 1-0 each night and not go beyond that," Prissel said. "I have a ton of respect for Aquinas and they have a lot of great players so it should a great match to be apart of and we hope the community is out to support us just like they've had this season and in previous ones. I know the girls will give their will play so hard to do our best and play our best in our home gym."

The winner of the two semifinal matches meet in the final on Saturday, Oct. 30 at Shell Lake beginning at 7 p.m.

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