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Timberwolves rally past Monona Grove
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Timberwolves rally past Monona Grove

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After a first-game mulligan, Tomah High School volleyball coach Sarah Walters didn’t give her team a fiery pep talk.

“I really didn’t have to tell them anything,” Walters said. “These girls were ready to play. They just needed a fresh start.”

The Timberwolves mentally erased their miserable start and rallied past Monona Grove 12-25, 25-18, 26-24, 16-25, 15-9 in a WIAA Division 1 Regional Semifinal match Thursday at Tomah High School.

Their season ended two nights later with a 25-11, 25-12, 25-13 loss at top-seeded Sun Prairie. Tomah ended its season with a 10-4 record in matches decided in a best-of-five format.

Early in the regional semifinal, Monona Grove looked like the team that would make the trip to Sun Prairie.

After Tomah took a 1-0 lead in the first game, there was a delay due to confusion over Tomah’s rotation, which was backward. While the cockeyed rotation didn’t cost Tomah a point, it pushed the Timberwolves out of the sync the rest of the first game. The Silver Eagles raced out to a 9-2 lead and stretched the advantage to 19-9 before Walters called timeout.

Tomah rallied to within 20-12 before the Silver Eagles ended the game with a 5-0 run.

“We went from being on a high to a situation we weren’t comfortable in,” Walters said.

The comfort level returned for game two. Anne Peterson’s kill gave Tomah a 3-1 lead. The Siliver Eagles briefly took the lead at 8-7, but Tomah took off on a 7-0 run punctuated by a hard spike from Mikayla Richards.

Monona Grove rallied to within 18-17, but an Emma Kliebenstein service ace and a kill by Kelsie Buttner boosted Tomah’s lead to 22-17. The Timberwolves got another kill from Buttner and a hitting error by Monona Grove to close out the game.

Tomah needed a big rally to claim game three. The Silver Eagles took a 14-9 lead before Tomah cut the gap to 15-14.

Neither team had more than a two-point lead the rest of the game. With Monona Grove leading 22-20, Tomah launched a 3-0 run with kills from Richards and Jamie Gaarder and a Silver Eagles hitting error.

Monona Grove scored the next two points for a 24-23 lead, but two hitting errors and a net violation delivered the game to Tomah.

The Silver Eagles won the fourth game thanks to a 6-0 run that transformed a 12-10 Tomah lead into a 16-12 Monona Grove cushion. The Silver Eagles finished the game with a 5-0 run.

Tomah trailed 5-4 in the fifth game before a 4-0 run that included kills by Buttner and Gaarder put the Timberwolves in charge.

Gaarder unleashed a service ace for an 11-6 Tomah edge, and the lead went to 14-8 on a Richards kill.

Monona Grove’s Amanda Nelson kept the match alive with a hard spike, and the Timberwolves thought they had won the match on the next point until the officials disagreed on a ruling and ordered a replay.

Tomah then won match point on a Monona Grove hitting error and nailed down its first WIAA tournament victory since Oct. 21, 2005.

Walters said the Timberwolves were back to their normal selves after the first game.

“They played with a lot more confidence,” Walters said. “They were a lot more fluid.”

It was an important victory not only for Tomah but for the Mississippi Valley Conference, which didn’t get much respect at the seeding meeting. La Crosse Central, the MVC’s undefeated champion, could only must a number-six seed in the 15-team draw, and Tomah barely got a home match despite finishing second in the MVC.

“For a long time there has been a belief that we play a weaker style of volleyball, and it was nice to beat a Madison team,” Walters said. “The girls really wanted this match.”

Buttner led the Timberwolves’ hitting attack with 16 kills and three blocks.

Richards had 13 kills, Gaarder had nine kills and 10 digs, and Peterson had eight kills, five digs and three blocks.

Setters Caitlin Nicol and Mariah Szeflinski combined for 41 assists and seven digs.

Emma Kliebenstein had 11 digs.

At Sun Prairie, Nicol had eight assists, and Kliebenstein had seven digs.

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