Momentum powers Fall Creek and Osseo-Fairchild to state volleyball tournament
By Sean Scallon
Get going and keep going
It's the motto that Osseo-Fairchild High School Volleyball Team has been using during the playoffs, which has seen the Thunder win the school's first-ever sectional championship in volleyball. After losing the first game in the sectional semifinals to Mondovi back on Oct. 29 at O-F, the Thunder took control of the match in Game 2 and kept rolling until it routed the Buffaloes in Games 3 and 4 and did the same against Cochrane-Fountain City in the sectional finals, also at home.
"When we start playing well we just get so much energy from it that we don't want to stop," O-F junior outside hitter Brooke McCune said. "We say to each other, we want to get going and keep going and that's what we've been doing."
That's what they've been doing since just before the playoffs. The Thunder won their last two regular season matches over Altoona and Loyal and extended it to a six-match winning streak all the way to this Saturday's WIAA Division 3 State Volleyball Tournament in Wausau. The Thunder (8-6) are the No. 4 seed in the tourney and will play No. 1 seed and defending state champs Howard's Grove (19-1) at 1 p.m. in the semifinals. Fall Creek (16-2), the Thunder's Cloverbelt Conference rivals are also in the tournament and are the No. 3 seed against No. 2 seed Waterloo (21-4). Both teams were in the state tournament last year along with Howard's Grove.
Osseo-Fairchild head coach Sharon Steinke said she knew the team returned a lot of talent for this season but needed the the right fit and team chemistry to eventually be successful. Prep volleyball teams usually use the non-conference portion of their schedules to get ready for the rest of the season but there was no time for it this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, O-F struggled in what turned out to be a very competitive league schedule, going 2-5.
"It's just like any season, you have to find the right spots and rotations for the girls to do their best at," Steinke said. "But we had to do so in conference instead of non-conference and some players stayed on JV through much of that time so they could get playing experience which benefits now. But once we got together and played through all those difficulties, things started to flow for us because we do have a very good team. The talent's there and it's special bunch to work with."
McCune along with fellow junior outside hitter Mariah Steinke and senior middle blocker Madison Hugdahl have gotten the bulk of the team's stats this season in kills, blocks, digs and aces with junior setter Rachel Moe tallying 136 assists and junior libero Zoe Lafky collecting 66 digs. O-F has also been helped by sophomore middle blocker Madisyn Loonstra and junior right hitter Dezeray Eisberner. They will be facing a formidable foe in Howard's Grove going up against arguably the state's top high school player, sophomore outside hitter and University of Wisconsin-bound Saige Damrow, and junior outside hitter Karissa Kaminski. Steinke hopes the team's size and athletic ability can offset a Tiger squad many of whose players play volleyball year-round.
"Seven of our players are involved in at least three sports," Steinke said. "They're talented athletes in their own right and they work hard. Once they've learned the fundamentals of the game and do them well, they've done a great job and getting to state for the first time shows that."
Like Osseo-Fairchild, Fall Creek parlayed a slow start (albeit a small one, gradually integrating less experienced players from last year's state tournament team) to the season to bigger and better things. The Crickets had lost to eventual Cloverbelt Conference champs Chippewa Falls McDonell (who also made the state tournament in Division 4) early on but beat them eventually in a triangular match with Altoona and have gone on to not lose much as a game after a 3-2 loss at Phillips early in October. Instead of facing Howards Grove this time in their first-ever trip to state, FC is back facing a similar top-ranked squad in Waterloo.
"Our approach this year is very much the same as it was last year," FC head coach Matt Prissel said. "We are really trying to enjoy the entire journey and enjoy the week. We don't want to get so caught up on the match on Saturday that we forget to focus on how special of an accomplishment "punching a ticket" to state truly is. Things are certainly different this year, but we are still focused on doing the best we can each day. We will try to play our game and take care of our side of the net and make them make plays."
Making those plays this season for FC as she did last season is junior middle blocker Gianna Vollrath along with senior middle blocker Emma Ryan, junior setter Sam Olson and senior libero Emily Madden. They will take on a Pirate squad led by senior outside hitters Joslyn Wolff and Brooke Mosher and sophomore setter Sophia Schneider.
Read more on the state tournament and the recent sectional tournaments in this week's print edition of the Tri-County News, on newsstands now. There's more on the tournament at https://www.wiaawi.org/Sports/Fall/Girls-Volleyball/Tournament