REGIONAL- With senior Hannah Penke making the all-tourney team, the Ely Timberwolves claimed the consolation bracket trophy Saturday at the Class A state volleyball championships in St. Paul. It was …
REGIONAL- With senior Hannah Penke making the all-tourney team, the Ely Timberwolves claimed the consolation bracket trophy Saturday at the Class A state volleyball championships in St. Paul.
It was the second straight trip to the state tournament for Ely and they likely benefitted from their previous experience.
The unseeded Wolves took down the fifth-seeded West Central Area School Knights in straight sets for the consolation title on Saturday, topping last year’s trip to state where they lost in the consolation final to Badger-Greenbush-Middle River 3-1.
The Wolves dropped into the consolation round after an opening round 3-0 loss on Thursday to No. 2 seed Mayer Lutheran, then bounced back to avenge last year’s loss to the Gators of Badger/GB-MR with a 3-1 victory on Friday to reach the final.
The first set against the Knights featured eight ties through 13-13 before Ely took the lead for good on a WCA attack error. Penke followed that up with two big kills on sets from Sarah Visser to go up 16-13. A service ace by Penke upped the margin to 18-14. WCA closed the gap to 20-19, but Lilli Rechichi ignited a four-point Wolves run with a kill and Charlotte Hegman put down the set winner for a 25-20 win.
The Wolves took advantage of their momentum in the second set, grabbing control early and never letting up in a 25-15 win. From a 14-12 lead the Wolves closed out the set with an 11-2 run featuring kills by Penke, Visser, Rechichi, Clare Thomas and Audrey Kallberg.
The Wolves raced to a 7-1 lead in the third set, but the Knights wouldn’t go away, coming back to tie the set 8-8. Fighting for their lives, WCA appeared to have taken control as they forged a 17-13 lead, but consecutive kills by Thomas, Rechichi and Hegman and an attack error by WCA evened the score at 17-17. Visser gave Ely the lead with a service ace, and Thomas followed up with a kill and an ace to put the Wolves up 21-18. Hegman and Penke had kills to put the Wolves on the brink of victory at 24-21, and Thomas completed the 3-0 sweep for Ely with a kill for the 25-21 win.
Ely Head Coach Megan Wognum said she was impressed at the caliber of play from her team in the title match.
“After being away from home for five days, the girls pushed through and showed up to play their best game of the season. Once again, our defense was the best I’ve seen from us. We have worked our tails off this year to improve our defense this season and it showed that all that hard work was worth it.”
Penke was the big gun for the Wolves in the match, notching 17 kills on 46 attack attempts. Thomas scored 10 kills and Rechichi kicked in nine. Visser put up 34 set assists.
Penke’s presence loomed even larger against the Gators, where she hammered 19 kills and had a team-leading five blocks in the 3-1 win. Thomas was also on fire, matching Penke with 19 kills.
The first set was everything true volleyball fans would want in a state championship tourney matchup, a battle from beginning to end. The contest featured 12 ties and ten lead changes, with Ely getting a late 3-0 run on kills by Hegman and Penke and an ace from Visser to go up 23-22. But the Gators responded in kind with kills from Sierra Westberg and Kenzie Dahl and a set-ending ace by Ada Lee to win 25-23.
But from there, the match belonged to Ely.
With Penke and Thomas leading the way, Ely shook loose from a 10-10 tie on four consecutive errors by the Gators and a pair of kills by Thomas and an ace from Kallberg to go up 18-10. The Wolves closed out the 25-17 win with a pair of Penke kills and a set-winner by Hegman.
Ely went up 7-6 in the third on a Gators service error and never looked back. With Visser at the service line the Wolves scored six consecutive points to go up by nine, 16-7. A six-point run by the Gators cut Ely’s lead to 16-13, but the Wolves righted the ship, pulling away for a 25-18 win to take the match lead 2-1.
The Gators stayed close in the early going of set four, leading four times on the way to a 7-7 tie. But then the Wolves took charge with Kallberg at serve, reeling off eight consecutive points with three kills by Thomas and one by Rechichi to take a 15-7 lead. Confident and solidly in control, the Wolves closed out the match win on a 10-6 run featuring kills by Penke and Thomas for the dominant 25-13 win.
“We knew going into that game that we were going to need to show up to play or we weren’t going to play on Saturday,” said Wognum. “We decided as a team that we needed to leave it all on the floor and they did! I was so impressed with the way we played defense.”
For a second year in a row, Ely drew the No. 2 seed and perennial volleyball powerhouse Mayer Lutheran for their opening round match. Last year the Wolves eked out a set win against the Crusaders, but couldn’t repeat that in a 3-0 defeat.
“We came out a little cold in the first game against Mayer Lutheran,” recalls Wognum. “We knew they were there to compete and we knew the experience for them was something they have experienced many times. We struggled to get some solid swings in and our defense was just a step behind the ball. We gave them a good run but in the end, we just couldn’t get ahead.”
Ely actually took control of the first set early on with Amanda Penke at the service line. A kill by Kallberg, a pair of errors by the Crusaders, and a Hannah Penke kill put the Wolves up 9-5, a lead they would hold throughout most of the set. But Mayer Lutheran worked the score back to a tie at 21-21, and an Ely error and a service ace by the Crusaders’ Mari Buhr gave Mayer Lutheran a 23-21 lead. Mayer Lutheran hitter Marly Martin hammered a pair of kills to complete the come-from-behind 25-23 win for the Crusaders.
Mayer Luther revved up their quest for a fifth state title in the second set, taking the lead at the outset on a kill by Martin and never trailing in a dominant 25-13 win.
Thomas gave Ely a boost with a kill to open the third set, and the Wolves showed no fear as they bolted to an 11-4 lead with three kills and an ace from Penke fueling their run. But a four-point Crusaders run trimmed Ely’s lead to 11-8. Mayer Lutheran was trailing 13-9 when it delivered the haymaker, a devastating 10-point run including four aces that put them up 19-13. Rechichi stopped the blitz with a kill, but the match was essentially over at that point, with the Crusaders riding the wave of momentum to a 25-16 win.