A 15-year streak was broken in Spring Valley Thursday night as the Cardinals defeated the Boyceville Bulldogs in three sets and won the Dunn-St. Croix Conference championship for the first time since …
A 15-year streak was broken in Spring Valley Thursday night as the Cardinals defeated the Boyceville Bulldogs in three sets and won the Dunn-St. Croix Conference championship for the first time since 2008.
Spring Valley came out hot taking six of the first nine points, and then rapidly increased that lead to 9-4. The volleys came in quick succession, and Boyceville showed a lot of intensity playing the undefeated Cardinals on their home court.
Spring Valley maintained control, but the Bulldogs pushed back, taking the score to 12-8 after the first 20 points. Long volleys ultimately end with a one-point change, but they can be the difference in maintaining momentum and confidence on the court. The Cardinals consistently won these against Boyceville, but they never seemed to be able to pull away, finally resulting in a Spring Valley timeout as the Bulldogs drew within three at 17-14.
Excellent play by Stein to keep unlikely balls alive, kills by outside hitters Mara Ducklow and Ella Stangl, and some big plays at the net by middle blocker Charli Vanasse were the difference as the Cardinals surged after stopping play to regroup. At 22-15, Boyceville took its first timeout in hopes of resetting themselves and pulling out a win. The fight seemed to go out of the Bulldogs when Spring Valley took the next two points anyways, and Vanasse sealed the win with a kill.
Boyceville’s lethargy looked to have carried over into set 2, and Spring Valley wasted no time as they raced out to a six-point lead behind Stangl’s serving. Vanesse also clocked in and lead the Cardinals on a run, and when the score hit 11-2, the Bulldogs had no choice but to burn their first timeout. It was only marginally effective as the home team still took six of the next 10 points, putting the score at 18-5.
At 22-5, Boyceville called their final timeout of the set in what can only be described as desperation for what was looking more and more like a lost cause. And indeed it was as the Bulldogs did not score again, and Spring Valley won the set, 25-5.
The third set started a lot more balanced. Boyceville looked like they found the footing they lost at the end of set 1. After the first 10 points, the score was 6-4.
Spring Valley surged ahead though, taking seven of the next eight points bringing the score to 13-5. The Cardinals didn’t slow down either and at 17-8, the Bulldogs took their first timeout. Once again, the reset was only marginally effective as the home team still took six of the next 10 putting the score at 23-12.
A couple of volleys later, and one final triumphant kill by Vanasse, the Cardinals celebrated as the 2023 Dunn-St. Croix Conference champions.
Volleyball is obviously a team effort, but the combination of Ducklow and Stein consistently brought what should’ve been lost points back from the brink and turned them into positive production. Stein in particular consistently laid out for plays, diving onto the court to make saves for the Cardinals and keep the ball alive for her teammates to take advantage of. She attributes her knack for always seeming to be in the right place to stop kill shots and aces to the experience she’s gained during her team’s ascension to the top of the conference over the past few years.
“It’s just reading the hitter and the hands on our side like where the block is going to come bounce off of, and being able to read around the court and know where I am. I’ve been playing libero since I was in freshman year, but I also think having a good coach helps,” Stein said. “My hips are bright purple, my wrist is bruised, my elbows and knees are horrid, but it’s worth it.”
For those that may not be familiar with the strategic positions in volleyball, the libero is a defensive specialist in indoor volleyball that stays in the game at all times and is the only player who is not restricted by the rules of rotation. A libero typically replaces the middle blocker when that player rotates to the back row, but the libero never rotates to the front row. Basically, Stein is always in the back row eyeing the opposition and waiting to make a play.
The Cardinals were very close to ending their 15-year drought last year but came up just short in the final game of the season against the Elmwood-Plum City Wolves. They were both undefeated at the time, but the Cardinals fell short while the Wolves ended up winning the regional championship.
Second year outside hitter Ella Stangl thinks this is their year though, and she says she’s seen a lot of growth in the team this season.
“We lost seniors last year that were really important, but everyone has really stepped up in their positions,” Stangl said. "At the beginning, we were getting used to a new setter because ours graduated, but we all got confident with her and comfortable with each other. I’m really excited to see how far we go.”
Head coach of the Cardinals, Kelli Schlegel notes that, although they’ve been towards the top recently, it wasn’t that long ago they were at the bottom. The difference she said is in consistency, confidence and dedication.
“We have a couple senior captains that have been playing for me for four years. They started as freshmen in 2020, and we played maybe 15 games, and we won one,” Schlegel said. “So, we went from the bottom to the top, and it’s just their drive. They play a lot in the offseason, and they just want to be better.”
With this win, the Cardinals have ensured home court advantage throughout the regional round of competition until the regional final match. There are three rounds of regionals, two rounds of sectionals and then it’s state. Five more wins, that’s what the Cardinals are looking for.
The regional round of competition begins Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when the Cardinals host Blair-Taylor, but Stein just has one thing left to say before then.
“I love my mom. We love everybody. Thank you coaches, and thank you seniors,” Stein said.