ONALASKA — Even players and coaches from the Onalaska High School volleyball team didn't anticipate this kind of start to the season.
There were many points of pressure — on both sides — when Holmen traveled to the Chuck Deeth Fieldhouse to play for the first time.
Neither team had enough practices to accurately gauge potential success, and the local rivalry amid two teams with high expectations took center stage as a crowd made up of family members observed.
But the Hilltoppers were the team that never rattled, the end result was an impressive 25-17, 25-20, 25-20 victory over the Vikings in front of a little more than 100 spectators.
"We did have errors, which we were expecting, because it was the first night," said Onalaska first-year coach Jessica Rohde, who won in her debut. "We had one week of practices, one day of tryouts instead of three, and it was like, 'Get to know each other quick on that court.'"
The Hilltoppers appeared to do that in a match they led throughout. Holmen took brief leads early in the first set and again in the second, but Onalaska had the right answers to reclaim the advantage in both instances.
The Vikings managed to force an 8-8 tie on a Brynn Hundt kill in the third set, but they never got in front as the Hilltoppers scored five of the next six points starting with a block by freshman Halie Kapelke.
Holmen couldn't get Onalaska out of its comfort zone despite making runs at it the rest of the way. Junior Ava Smith put the exclamation point on the victory with a kill for the final point.
Smith also ended the second set on a kill and gave her team set point with a kill at the end of the first. She led a balanced team with 10 kills, while teammates Molly Garrity and Kapelke added seven and six, respectively.
Smith said she likes the balance available to the Hilltoppers, who seem to have plenty of options at the net when the back row and setter Carly Skemp take care of business.
Senior Olivia Gamoke had 19 digs and Skemp 18 assists in the winning effort.
"I think we moved the ball all over the court, which is a good thing," Smith said. "There was good communication, and the setters set the ball very well for us."
Holmen was led by Mara Schmidt's 12 kills and Marissa Pederson's 15 assists. Ellie Kline, Kassie Mueller and Schmidt also had 12 digs.
While the Vikings were good in spurts and weren't easy to put away, they simply made too many mistakes and put the ball into the net too many times are the wrong times.
That left the door open for the Hilltoppers to claim a significant victory.
"Holmen is a great team with a lot of really good players," Rohde said. "In the past, when watching Onalaska and coaching at Aquinas, I have seen other teams put on a run, and suddenly (the Hilltoppers) aren't talking.
"They did a really good job with communication tonight, and that stands out to me."
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX
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