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HOLMEN VOLLEYBALL 3, AQUINAS 1

High school volleyball: Holmen fights off La Crosse Aquinas to remain tops in MVC

Holmen volleyball

Kendra Winker, from left, Mara Schmidt, Harley Bartels and Chloe Hammond helped the MVC-leading Holmen volleyball team beat second-place and state-ranked Aquinas for a second time on Thursday.

HOLMEN -- There is no way to tell which player will step forward for the Holmen High School volleyball team when everything is on the line.

The Vikings are putting together a memorable season with plenty of depth and balance to complement its plethora of talent.

Sophomore Rayna McArdle emerged from that talent pool at the key time Thursday night to help the Vikings finish off an exciting 25-19, 33-35, 25-12, 27-25 victory over Aquinas at the Bernie L. Ferry Field House.

Aquinas junior Shea Bahr tied the final set at 25 with a kill off the left side of the net, but McArdle followed that with a block and kill as the Vikings (8-0) remained unbeaten in the MVC and beat the second-place Blugolds (6-2) for a second time.

"I was watching from the bench, saw the up and said, 'Oh, it's time for Rayna to finish it," Holmen senior Ellie Kline said. "It was so exciting to watch her put it away."

It probably also provided some relief during a night filled with comebacks, successful dives for the ball and timely shots on both sides. Long rallies were also a staple.

McArdle's final kill was her 11th and it finally put away the Blugolds, who never led in the fourth set but charged back from a 23-19 deficit to tie it on Bahr's kill.

"Being able to do that at the end was really nice," said McArdle, a sophomore. "It solidified everything we've been working on and gave us that big energy rush at the end. The kill was pretty nerve-racking, and I'm just glad it went down so we could finish it."

Bahr had 12 kills for Aquinas, which is ranked eighth in Division 3 by the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association, and teamed up with senior Jacy Weisbrod (14 kills) to bring the Blugolds back in the fourth set.

Junior Macy Donarski had 38 assists and 21 digs to go with Bahr's 17 digs, Weisbrod's 12 digs and senior Bailey Theusch's 12 digs as the Blugolds defended against Holmen's attack at the net.

Senior Mara Schmidt had 16 kills to pace the Vikings. Kline had 34 digs and went over the 1,500 mark for her career, and McArdle added 12 to go with her kills and 15 assists. Marissa Peterson added 26 assists and senior Harley Bartels nine kills for Holmen, which has just missed out on a spot in the top 10 among Division 1 teams ranked by the WVCA.

The Blugolds came back from an 8-0 deficit to tie the score at 17 in the first set. A net serve was followed by a Kyla Christnovich kill that put the Vikings back in charge.

Aquinas led in the early stages of the second set but had to find a way to respond to 7-1 Holmen run that put it in front 12-9. A kill by Weisbrod got the Blugolds within 17-16, and the teams were never again separated by more than a point until Donarski's winner that ended the set at 35-33.

"My hope tonight was that both teams showed up and played hard," Aquinas coach Nellie George said. "They played great, and I think we played really well.

"The best thing about playing great teams is that it exposes the things you really have to work on. It's nice to have a match like this because it gives me a gauge on what the next couple of weeks will be like for us practice-wise, so we're ready to rip by the time the tournament rolls around."

The extended second set established a key point for both teams. The one with the better reaction could build a big advantage, and the team that reacted better was Holmen, which controlled the third set before holding Aquinas off in another competitive fourth.

"That (second) game was such a marathon," Holmen coach Sammi Maier said. "It was so back and forth, and there were so many long rallys, a minute at a time.

"But coming out of that and being consistent was a big thing for us. We didn't turn that loss into errors, and the girls did a good job of staying level-headed."

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