With the match slipping away, the Aquinas High School volleyball team needed to find its composure.
One of the strongest relationships in volleyball is between a setter and a hitter.
While it may have taken longer than Blugolds coach Danielle George would have liked, Aquinas found what it was looking for in its MVC match Tuesday night against Tomah, earning a hard-fought 25-18, 25-14, 25-21, 25-21, 15-10 victory over the Timberwolves in front of approximately 600 fans at the Reinhart Athletic Complex.
Aquinas improved to 10-5 overall and 5-0 in the MVC, running its conference winning streak to 18 matches, dating back to 2015.
“Honestly, I have to give a lot of credit to Tomah,” George said of the five-set match. “They served aggressively, they passed well, and to be honest, they’re a scrappy team. They don’t give up on a ball. They’re down low, they’re digging, and I think that got to us a little bit. For a while we got out-hustled, and they just played hard.”
The Blugolds closed out the second set beautifully, including four consecutive kills by sophomore Lexi Donarski in a 7-2 run to give Aquinas a commanding 2-0 lead.
But for every beautifully executed pass and hit the Blugolds had to open the match, the Timberwolves (2-3 MVC) responded with a scrappy dig or a well-timed block in the third and fourth sets.
Senior Reis Derousseau led all players with 22 kills for Tomah, which closed out the third set on a 10-2 run to keep the match alive and push it to a decisive fifth set.
“She’s a fantastic player, and I knew she was going to be their go-to tonight,” George said of Derousseau. “The difficult thing in blocking Reis is that she’s such a talented hitter and she’s left handed. For our blockers, we don’t see that very often so the struggle was real for us tonight in trying to figure out how to set up.”
The Blugolds certainly had the potential to close out the match in three sets, leading 20-18 in the third, but miscommunications and mistakes allowed Tomah back in. It also forced Aquinas to use a bit more energy that perhaps it had initially anticipated, with the girls breathing a bit heavier as the game got tight.
“We’re going to start working a lot harder in practice so we can avoid long games like this,” Blugolds senior Ellie Copps said. “We know that people are kind of out for us, so we’re going to push ourselves even harder.”
With the momentum firmly in the Timberwolves’ favor following the fourth set, Copps said that the Blugolds needed to start the fifth set strong.
“We just said we needed to get our energy up, because we were down a little bit,” said Copps, who finished with 10 kills. “When we got our energy up, we started playing better.”
That energy allowed Aquinas to take a 11-4 lead in the decisive fifth set, and to hold off Tomah to remain perfect in the MVC.
“I think the girls are capable of so much,” George said of her team. “For us, it was just a matter of refocusing and getting back to the game plan and executing what we talk about in practice.”
Donarski led Aquinas with 14 kills, while junior Claire Dolan doled out 24 assists. Sophomore Savannah Murphy added 10 kills and 16 digs for the Timberwolves.
By the numbers
18: Consecutive MVC matches won by Aquinas
22: Kills for Tomah's Reis Derousseau
16: Digs for Aquinas' Lexi Donarski and Kayla Bahr
24: Assists for the Blugolds' Clair Dolan
600: Estimated fans who filled the Reinhart Athletic Complex