College volleyball: Viterbo survives 5-set thriller against UW-L

Viterbo’s Natalie Geidel tips the ball past UW-La Crosse’s Kathryn Maas in the second set of Wednesday night’s crosstown match. Viterbo won 22-25, 25-18, 25-14, 19-25, 15-7.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

While one coach was happy with how her banged-up team responded with a gritty performance, the other, well, he was not pleased and likely used different decibel levels to let his team know about it in the locker room afterward.



Expectations, you see, are very high for the volleyball programs at Viterbo University and UW-La Crosse.

Ryan DeLong MUG




So when Viterbo’s Ryan DeLong and UW-L’s Amber Dunn step back from the intense five-set match their respective teams treated 650-plus fans to on Wednesday night, each will realize there was a lot of good that came from it. And not just who won, or who lost.

Once again, they put college volleyball in prime time — the local version of it, anyway — and provided an entertaining match that could have gone either way.

If you haven’t seen Viterbo’s Natalie Geidel hammer a spike, you need to. If you haven’t seen almost pint-sized Baylee Gross dig out a spike inches off the floor, you should. If you haven’t witnessed UW-L’s Halle Barnabo — despite a bad back — clean the floor of potential game-winning tips or spikes, put it on your to-do list.

And, of course, if you haven’t seen the spirited play of the Eagles’ Marisa Johnson, who left the Beggs Gymnasium floor with an ankle injury early in the second set, only to return — and play — in the fourth and fifth sets, you’re missing out.

There is a reason Viterbo is off to an 8-0 start and has climbed to No. 2 in the NAIA Volleyball Coaches’ Association Top 25 poll. There is a reason why UW-L is 4-1 and ranked No. 16 in NCAA Division III.

Neither gives an inch once on the court.

“I don’t think we ever underestimated UW-L. I just think that, there are a lot of different factors coming into the game and they did play well,” said Viterbo junior Aubrey Aspen, who finished with 12 total blocks and was a key reason Viterbo was able to win the five-set match.

“They played very well and I don’t want to take away anything from them, but I think we could have probably played a little bit better.”

Geidel finished with 15 kills despite not having her typical overpowering performance, but a good deal of the credit for that goes to UW-L’s defense of Stephanie Henk (4 block assists, 14 kills), Jessica Jablonski (2 solo blocks) and Kathryn Moss (3 block assists).

They were in the right place at the right time and had Geidel blocked, sometimes double-blocked, more times than not in the third and fourth sets. Sets UW-L won to knot the match at 2-2.

That goes back to Dunn and the overall chess match that was played between her and DeLong, her coach when she was a player at Viterbo. Their minds were racing with what substitution to make, when to make it, and what defense to use at what time.

That, in itself, was as entertaining to watch as the match at times as each had their game face firmly intact.

“Obviously for me, I am doing the best that I can to figure out what the other team is doing so that we can put ourselves in a good position,” Dunn said. “Our game plan was strict; we needed to do what we had planned in order to be successful tonight.

“So when we started to stray away from that, that is when that tough face (on her) comes out. We have to get back on track.”

DeLong, who is as intense as any coach in any sport during a match, knew UW-L would put up a tough fight and had his team prepared for a grueling match, especially in the fifth set.

“We have stayed in contact ever since she left,” DeLong said of Dunn. “I am excited for Amber and know she is going to do well there. It is exciting to have her back and have a nice, friendly rivalry continue.”

The rivalry is good for both teams, it’s good for volleyball of all levels, and it’s good for La Crosse. And as readers are not shy about telling us, there is more than football out there.

We know, and so do those took a chance at attending Wednesday night’s match.

Now, will those people — and more — follow Viterbo and UW-L throughout their season?

“It was a great crowd tonight. At the end of the day, we are ambassadors for our sport, and hopefully there were enough young women here watching that game, thinking, ‘Hey, I want to do that one day. I want to be a part of that,’” Dunn said.

“It is just not about the competitive aspect, or about a really good dig, it is about a lot of the other stuff that goes on behind the scenes … kids saying please and thank you and making good decisions and getting out in the community and making good choices.”


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