RFHS volleyball begins season 13-0

Posted 9/8/21

After River Falls High School volleyball’s 3-0 sweep on Thursday, Sept. 2, on the road against Eau Claire Memorial High School, the Wildcats improved to an undefeated 13-0 record for the 2021 …

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RFHS volleyball begins season 13-0


After River Falls High School volleyball’s 3-0 sweep on Thursday, Sept. 2, on the road against Eau Claire Memorial High School, the Wildcats improved to an undefeated 13-0 record for the 2021 season, the fourth time in as many years that the RFHS volleyball team has started the season 12-0 or better.

The Wildcats’ 2021 season began on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at the Chippewa Falls Invite, a new tournament that was created this year. In the past, RFHS would participate in a four-team quad with local teams. With a new invitational on the schedule, RFHS was able to play against new teams with stronger rosters at the beginning of the season, something that head coach Sara Kealy said was important for her team.

“It was an opportunity to play a little bit better competition right from the start,” Kealy said. “It was four Big River Conference teams and four Wisconsin Valley Conference teams. That’s who comprises our section one, so when we go back and do seeding at the end (of the year), we’ve actually seen each other, which doesn’t normally happen in the regular season.”

Playoff implications are always on the mind of Kealy and the RFHS roster because the Wildcats volleyball team has qualified for the state tournament every year since 2016. The road to the 2021 state tournament began at the aforementioned Chippewa Falls Invite. At the tournament, RFHS went 4-0, including 2-0 victories in a best-of-three format against Marshfield, Wausau West, Superior and D.C. Everest. Kealy reflected on the dominant performance in the first games of the year.

“It went as I expected,” Kealy said. “We are a better team than every team in their conference. But I loved starting out playing teams better than we’re used to. It forced us to figure it out a little bit quicker.”

Kealy spoke highly of the Chippewa Falls Invite event. She stated that she was able to get younger players playing time in more competitive games against better rosters, building their

Photo courtesy of the River Falls volleyball team WILDCAT VOLLEYBALL

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experience at the varsity level which will aid them in future tournaments and conference matches.

That experience was put to the test three days later when the RFHS volleyball team traveled to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to compete in the UW-Stout Sprawl on Friday, Aug. 27. At the sprawl, it was more of the same for Kealy’s roster – dominance throughout the two-day event culminating in another championship at the sprawl. On Friday, Aug. 27, RFHS went 4-0 on the first day of the event, which included victories against Ellsworth, Columbus Catholic, Lakeland and Turtle Lake.

The undefeated first day meant that Kealy’s team was placed in the gold bracket for the games on Saturday, Aug. 28. In the gold bracket, the Wildcats continued to impose their will on the competition, winning all three games to claim another championship at the UW-Stout Sprawl event.

“The competition is great and it’s so close to home,” Kealy said of the UW-Stout Sprawl. “It’s a great tournament for me to get a lot of kids into the game. But if I’m being honest, years ago I thought it would be great if we could ever get into the gold bracket, then we’ll know we’ve done it.”

The RFHS volleyball program has grown throughout the years. Now, the team goes to the UW-Stout event with an expectation to compete and win, instead of just making the gold bracket. After the sprawl championship, the Wildcats had an 11-0 record for the season. The next game on the schedule was against Stillwater at home on Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The game against the Stillwater Ponies was the first real test of adversity for the Wildcats this season. RFHS fell behind two sets to zero early in the match. In the first set, the Wildcats lost 25-17 and the second set was a 25-22 loss. Kealy discussed getting out to a slow start in the home opener.

“It was the first home match really since 2019, so I knew the girls were going to be nervous,” Kealy said. “It was a little nervewracking for them. (Stillwater) blocked extremely well that first set. In that first set, we were a little jacked up and we wanted to just hit it hard and straight down.”

Kealy noted that her roster isn’t as tall as it’s been in the past and that trying to overpower teams with raw athleticism isn’t going to work like it once did.

“My kids are going to have to move the ball around and they’re going to have to hit shots,” Kealy said. “I think because of the adrenaline they were trying to do things that just don’t work for us.”

After the first set, Kealy said that the feeling in the huddle was that it was a fluke and that the match would turn around in the second set. That didn’t happen, and the feeling after dropping the second set was essentially panic setting in that a 63-game winning streak at home dating back to 2015 was about to be shattered in the form of a sweep against Stillwater.

After falling behind 0-2 in a best-of-five series, Kealy changed her approach and began actively coaching and directing players throughout the match, something that she doesn’t typically do.

“I haven’t had to get up and coach a lot in matches,” Kealy said. “I can give them information and they apply it; we don’t give up runs of points. I had to change how I was doing things (against Stillwater). When they figured it out in the third set, I knew that we had it – we had changed the momentum.”

The momentum had swung in favor of RFHS, and the home crowd helped fuel what turned out to be a third set victory 25-21, a fourth set victory 25-20, and a fifth set victory 15-6 to secure the victory against Stillwater and preserve the undefeated season.

The next game on the schedule was on Thursday, Sept. 2, on the road against Eau Claire Memorial, a game that the Wildcats won 3-0 to advance to 13-0 for the 2021 season.

For the Kealy and the Wildcats roster, the quest to keep the undefeated season going will continue on Thursday, Sept. 9, on the road against New Richmond. That match is slated to begin at 7 p.m.