This week is going to be a telling one for the West Salem High School volleyball team.
West Salem’s last loss was on Sept. 9 against DeForest, but Westby and Arcadia will try to change that this week.
Arcadia travels to West Salem (11-5, 8-0 Coulee) on Tuesday, then the Warriors face Westby on the road on Thursday.
“This upcoming week is big,” West Salem senior Emily Steele said. “We’re going into the mindset that we need to do our best and play as a team.”
The Panthers were victorious against Westby and Arcadia in the first rotation of the Coulee Conference schedule, but neither match was easy.
Arcadia forced the Panthers to four sets on Sept. 7 before the DeForest Invitational, and the Norsemen took West Salem to five sets on Sept. 12.
That five-set win came right after the DeForest loss.
The Norsemen kept the Panthers on their toes by winning the first set 25-23. The fifth set went to overtime with West Salem prevailing, 20-18.
“We just weren’t consistent with our hits,” McKenah Olson said of the match against Westby. “But, they’re really good as it is. Westby has really good hitters.”
Both teams were 3-0 entering the match. Westby has a ½ game advantage over Arcadia. Westby is 6-3 while Arcadia is 5-3.
“When people play us, they want to play the best they can because we are 8-0,” Panthers senior Abbie Niemeier said. “That gives us more reason to work hard in practice. We know it’s not going to be easy. Everyone is going to bring their A-game.
“We weren’t put in a position like that before,” Niemeier added. “The adrenaline and the crowd going crazy … we haven’t experienced that as a team. Now, we know to stay calm throughout the entire (match).”
Niemeier is No. 2 in kills for the Panthers while Sam Thompson, sister of coach Brett Thompson, leads the team with 132 kills and 103 digs.
West Salem has lost five matches this season, but a trio of those came at the DeForest Invitational. There, the Panthers lost twice to DeForest and then fell to McFarland in the tournament semifinals.
The Panthers were figuring things out early in the season. Thompson was trying to decide which players fit the best spot, and the players were learning a new offense that Thompson — who is taking over for his mother, Tina Thompson — said “quickened things up,” according to the new coach.
“We knew things were going to be ugly to start with,” Brett Thompson said. “We had to believe in ourselves and trust the process. It wasn’t going to happen overnight.”
Not only did Thompson plug in a speedier offense, but the Panthers have a new defense and serve-receive.
“They had a lot of questions, especially at the beginning of the season where we didn’t have set rules who would be playing where,” Thompson said. “They picked it up tremendously, and I couldn’t have asked a better group to teach this with.”
The Coulee schedule for the Panthers doesn’t end after playing the Norsemen and the Raiders this week.
West Salem faces G-E-T on Oct. 10 and Black River Falls two nights later. Both the Tigers and Red Hawks — within the same week — forced the Panthers to four sets.
After losing the first set to Black River Falls, West Salem took the next three sets on Sept. 19.
“Every team is going to come to play,” Thompson said. “G-E-T has been rolling in the conference, especially getting the win against Arcadia. It’s anybody’s ball game in the conference.”
Black River Falls is 5-3 in Coulee play while the Red Hawks are 4-5.