Volleyball rallying to pick up wins, make conference tournament

For the first time in Kim Wudi’s head coaching career, the UW- Eau Claire volleyball team faced three deciding sets in a row last weekend.


Entering the weekend, the Blugolds sported a 10-11 record and after a win against University of Northwestern-St. Paul, the team looked to secure wins and make their case for a conference championship bid.


Eau Claire travelled to conference opponent UW- Platteville for what became a back-and-forth match. No set was won by a margin larger than five points with the Blugolds taking the first 25-21 and the Pioneers winning the second 25-20.


After committing nine errors and only registering nine kills on 29 attempts in the second set, Eau Claire had a .0 hitting percentage and sophomore Katrina Raskie said this was because of the team’s focus decreasing.


“I think they had momentum,” Raskie said. “We were off and they were on, and that won’t work for us.”


The Blugolds took the third set 25-22 and Platteville forced a deciding set after scoring 25-22 in the fourth. In the deciding set, Eau Claire came up short and lost 15-12 giving the Pioneers the win 3-2.


“We had people who were playing really well and so did they,” Raskie said. “It really came down to who could execute when it mattered most.”


Eau Claire finished its weekend at the Elmhurst Invitational with two matches set against St. Olaf College (Minn.) and St. Mary’s College (Ind.).


The Oles won the first two sets 25-17 and 27-25 before the Blugolds evened the match with 25-20 and 25-16 scores. The deciding set had alternating scores until Eau Claire, tied at 13, allowed a kill and with an attack error lost the set 15-13 to lose its second match in a row 3-2.


Against St. Olaf, Raskie said similar problems plagued the team from the night before.


“We started out really slow,” Raskie said. “Coming off the close match from Platteville, we were unfocused and St. Olaf capitalized on opportunities that we didn’t.”


The Blugolds’ final match of the weekend against St. Mary’s was another back-and-forth battle. St. Mary’s won the first and third sets 25-22 while Eau Claire won the second and fourth sets 25-16 and 25-18.


Faced with their third deciding set of the weekend, errors told the story as the Blugolds committed only two errors and killed eight of their 27 attempts while St. Mary’s had six errors and only four kills of 29 attempts en route to the 15-7, 3-2 victory.


Raskie said the team took a lot from the weekend and moving forward, must remain focused to finish the matches.


“We’re focusing on maintaining our consistency,” Raskie said. “It’s important for every person to focus on their job, and when we get away from that, we make mental mistakes.”


Raskie described tough games like last weekends as a rollercoaster, and that it’s frustrating for the players and the coaching staff.


“When we don’t slip up mentally and we physically execute we have success,” Raskie said. “Otherwise little stupid mistakes can ruin a game and all the work we put in to get there.”


Wudi said her team accepts no moral victories and allowing what she believed were winnable games in regulation to go to a fifth set, makes all the work in the first four sets a mute point.


“It’s frustrating,” Wudi said. “When we put our backs against the wall and enter a fifth set, it’s anyones match.”


Now 11-13 overall with a 1-3 conference record, Eau Claire sits at seventh place in the WIAC and currently out of conference championship contention. While not impossible, the Blugolds face a tough road ahead for tournament contention with nine matches left in the regular season including scheduled contests against UW- Stout (16-7, 2-2), UW- Whitewater (16-5, 4-0) and UW-Oshkosh (19-3, 2-2).


Wudi said her team plays to win and most importantly plays for November matches. Her team strives to play deep into the season and currently is from the outside looking in on conference contention. To have a chance to make the playoffs,Wudi said Eau Claire must win its final four conference matchups against those mentioned above and UW- River Falls.


“It’s been make or break for awhile now,” Wudi said. “As soon as conference season starts, those wins are extremely important and now that we are in this situation, it adds a lot of pressure to every match.


Raskie said the team’s struggles have put them in a tough spot and with only nine matches left this season, there’s no more time for mistakes.


“There is a sense of urgency,” Raskie said. “It comes back to the goals we set for ourselves and understanding what needs to be done to achieve them. It all starts with our preparation.”


When asked if there was an added stress given the team’s circumstances, Raskie said her team sees this as a challenge.


“We don’t think that it’ll be easy,” Raskie said.  “We’re all very determined and that starts with the belief that we can always win. We all know the team’s abilities and our potential, we just need to show everyone else.”


Eau Claire will host the UW- Eau Claire fall classic this weekend, welcoming teams from Minnesota, Illinois and even Texas. The team’s first match of four over the weekend is set against Trinity (Texas) at 3 p.m. friday at McPhee gymnasium.