News
FROM HORSEPLAY to Heroes

BY GREG PETERS

Kealy turns chaos into calm

River Falls High School senior Morgan Kealy turns chaos into calm. That’s what good setters on the volleyball court are supposed to do. The only thing wrong with this statement is Kealy isn’t a good setter; she’s a great one. Many agree she’s the best in the state of Wisconsin this year.

“My brain kind of does it by itself,” said Kealy, referring to the four or five choices she has to make within a second after the first pass is made. “But before they serve the ball, I look at their blockers and see where they are.”

Chaos happened last week against Division III’s #4 ranked team in St. Croix Falls. The Wildcats were down two sets to start the match. The Saints were at match point in the third set, up 24-22. Four members of the Saints’ student-section, donned in their west- ern-theme-night boots, jorts, and cut-ou flan nels darted for the gym closet ready to pull out the brooms and put a Mary Poppins spin on the “three-set sweep.”

“I saw them,” said Kealy with a smile, “I went on the court and told my teammates we are going five sets and we are going to win this.”

Kealy and the Wildcats survived five match points and ended up winning the third set 29-27. As Kealy predicted, the Wildcats won in five sets. “We are not spending this much time playing volleyball to not have fun,” said Kealy. “We just need to go out and have fun and I think that was the switch we needed between the second and third set that helped us win.”

Turning chaos into calm doesn’t seem to be a conscientious choice for Morgan Kealy. It's who she is and there is a cool confidence about her. It's confidence that comes from setting balls to herself against the wall since she was 4 years old and playing club ball While her younger brother, Parker, was eating his second bowl of tater-tot hot dish at the kitchen table, Morgan and I tried to do the math on how many times she’s set a volleyball. I pulled out my calculator and just stopped counting after we reached a million. Kealy’s hands have literally set a volleyball over a million times during the past 13 years.

Kealy is known as “The Magician” on the River Falls Sports YouTube broadcasts for her back dumps and the number of kills she racks up from the setter position.

“I was so bad at those my freshman year,” said Kealy. “But now it’s my senior year and I have all of those in my tool box.”

There were two specific moments towards the end of the pressure-packed chaotic match against St. Croix Falls showing the calm- ing euect of Kealy. The Wildcats had just notched side-out and the Saints rolled the ball back underneath the net for the Wildcats to serve. They put some steam on it. Kealy tried to stop the ball with her foot by kicking it up to herself. Instead, the ball flipped up and hit her in the face with authority. She smiled and laughed, but it wasn’t out of embarrassment. She genuinely thought it was funny.

“Who wouldn’t laugh at that, right?” said Kealy.

Morgan Kealy has fun on the volleyball court.

“Volleyball is a place I can go to get away from everything,” said Kealy, “We’re here to have fun and we’re taking all of life’s chaos and letting it rest and just play volleyball.”

The second moment during the same match was when freshman Olivia Doerre had a ball slip through her hands on a pass.

“I was laughing,” said Kealy, “Everyone laughed it ou. Next point. Here we go. We put that in the back and move on.”

Like Ted Lasso says, “Have the memory of a goldfish." Speaking of recent memory, this regular season has been a little diuerent in the Big Rivers Conference. For the past six seasons, Wildcat volleyball has been about as dominant as a team could be. The Wildcats entered this season having not lost a single conference match since September 2015. An even crazier statistic, they had only dropped four sets during conference play since 2016, qualifying for the state tournament every year during that time.

The competition in western Wisconsin, however, has been slowly on the rise the past few years.

Chippewa Falls took the Wildcats to a fifth set in last year's section finals and the Car – dinals finally broke River Falls' seven-year conference winning streak with a four-set win on Sept. 1 this year.

Make no mistake about it, River Falls’ talent level isn’t down. They have three current seniors that will be playing Division I college volleyball next year in Kealy (St. Thomas), libero Abi Banitt (Southern Illinois), and outside-hitter Brianna Brathol (undecided to date but considering Kent State).

The added competition has been outstanding for high school volleyball in our area. This season has seen the biggest and, by far, the most raucous student-sections ever to watch BRC volleyball.

This Thursday night at 7 p.m.., River Falls will travel up Highway 35 to play rival, Hudson. Rumor has it the Raider players have been active and aggressive on the social media “smack talk” this week. There will no doubt be a packed gymnasium with an electric atmosphere.

When asked if Hudson will win Thursday night, Kealy received the chaotic in-yourface question like an ill-advised pass at the net; she giggled, smiled, and set it up by calmly saying, “I don’t think so at all.”

The best setter in the state just set it up on a tee why you need to check out the Wildcat/ Raider volleyball match in Hudson Thursday night.

Greg Peters is a former journalist and athletic director. He is a champion of local journalism and athletics. He lives in River Falls with his wife and three daughters and can often be found at First National Bank of River Falls Field volunteering with the River Falls Baseball Council or behind the mic at a Wildcat sporting event.

since fifth grade.

September 20, 2022