Volleyball continues to impress

    Blugolds visit division leading Warhawks while riding a 9-match winning streak

    More stories from Sam Martinez


    Photo by Sam Martinez

    Senior Jenna Smits sets the ball up for the team’s hitters Emily Miller (top) and Kelly Riesgraf (bottom) in a match against Northwestern—St. Paul (Minn.). The home match was part of the Sandy Schumacher memorial tournament and part of the Blugolds’ current nine-game winning streak.

    After a weekend sweep in the Coe College tournament (Iowa), the UW-Eau Claire volleyball team extended their winning streak to nine matches.

    The Blugolds have swept the last three weekend tournaments they have participated in and have won 15 of their last 16 matches.

    The WIAC features some of the best squads in NCAA Division III volleyball, with four teams ranked in the top-eight of the Midwest region.

    The WIAC shows its strength when teams like the Blugolds do well in regional tournaments, Head Coach Kim Wudi said. This season, the Blugolds have gone to tournaments in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa and boast a record of 17-3 in those matches.

    Wudi said in the WIAC “anybody can beat anybody,” and playing in the conference has made the Blugolds a better team.

    The Blugolds are ranked No. 4 in the region, and Wudi said one reason her team is so tough to beat is because of their balance, especially with their hitters.

    “We don’t have a go-to player,” Wudi said. “On any given night we have different players stepping up.”

    The Blugolds have more players with at least 200 kills than any other team in the WIAC this season. Juniors Katrina Raskie and keagan Kinsella, seniors Kelly Riesgraf, and Hannah Theisen and sophomore Emily Miller have all surpassed the 200 kill mark already.

    Miller said opponents cannot practice “commit blocking” techniques — defenses that focus on one star player — against the Blugolds because the team spreads the ball around.

    “It’s really easy to defend against a team when you know they’re going to set (to) their star player,” Miller said. “We don’t have a star player; we always have three great options, which is really effective.”

    To sustain a balanced attack around the net requires good defense, passing and setting, Wudi said, and senior setter Jenna Smits has done a good job getting the ball to different players.

    This weekend the Blugolds hit the road to play their final two regular season conference games.

    On Friday the team plays UW-Whitewater, ranked first in the Midwest region and eighth in the nation, and on Saturday they will play UW-Platteville.

    The Warhawks are on a 16 game winning streak and feature junior Lauren Pfeifer, who is leading the conference in kills per set.

    Wudi said the Warhawks are a team that plays excellent defense, so the team needs to avoid ending long rallies with costly errors.

    “We might not score the first time we send the ball over,” Wudi said. “We might get the ball back two or three times before we score.”

    Wudi said the team has been successful at cutting down their errors and keeping the ball in play, which is another reason why the team has been so successful lately.

    Establishing trust and just getting used to each other has helped the team cut down their errors, Miller said. With 11 new players, she said it was a bit difficult to establish trust right off the bat, but that has changed.

    “You spend a few weeks with these girls and suddenly they are like your sisters,” Miller said. “I think the more time we spend (together) the more trust we’ve gotten, so at the end of the season I think we’re in a really good place to be successful.”