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Red Wing's McKenna Schaffer digs a ball out of the back row during the first set of Thursday's Missota Conference match against New Prague in Red Wing.

Volleyball: Wingers lose in home finale

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Late in the regular season, the Red Wing volleyball team is fixated on the number 25.

All year, the Wingers have shown glimpses of success, but have had trouble finishing on their momentum. So Red Wing head coach Heidi Ulwelling has the team focused on 25, trying to get the girls to finish their sets and win a match for the first time since Sept. 8.

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"All our practices and scrimmages are geared towards 25, rather than 11 or shortened games," Ulwelling said. "I know I have them conditioned. It's not a matter of if they can last to 25; it's more of the mental game."

Early on in Thursday's home finale against New Prague, the Wingers were able to contend with the Trojans, but they were never able to reach the 25-point benchmark in a three-set Missota Conference loss.

New Prague won the match 25-11, 25-11, 25-13.

"We hit that wall every match," Ulwelling said. "It's hard to get over that."

In the first set, the Wingers and Trojans fought back and forth, with Red Wing getting early kills from Macy Kelly and Sydney Book. Starting with a kill from Marissa Ekness, New Prague rattled off a five-point run to go up 10-5, eventually leading to a convincing first-set victory.

In the second set, the Trojans (13-13, 3-3 Missota) jumped out to a 10-2 lead. Using a flurry of cross-court shots and tips, New Prague made short work of Red Wing to take the 2-0 advantage after two sets.

"They have a lot of finesse hitters," Ulwelling said. "When I saw them warm up, they shift their blockers, and then their hitters are able to get a visual and they go against it. They did that very well against our block tonight."

One of the Wingers' top traits this season has been blocking at the net. Using a wide array of shots, the Trojans managed to keep Red Wing's front line guessing in all three sets.

"Tonight, we didn't have much blocking, which tells me their hitters are trained pretty well to hit around it," Ulwelling said.

Trying to stay alive, the Wingers (4-20, 0-6 Missota) capitalized on several Trojan errors to tie the third set at 5. But like they had done all night, the Trojans went on a run, scoring six of the next seven points for the 11-6 edge. From there, New Prague's attack, led by Sydney Foss, put the Wingers away for the sweep.

"I think they're getting the concept of team better," Ulwelling said of her team, "it's just about carrying that energy throughout the match."

McKenna Schaffer and McKenzie Cota kept rallies alive in the back row for Red Wing, finishing with eight and seven digs, respectively. Cota also added seven set assists, and Sydney Book was the Wingers' top attacker with five kills.

Thursday's loss was the final home game for Red Wing's seven seniors: Kelly, Schaffer, Kelsey Hager, Julia Rietjens, Abigail Johnson, Mary Anthony and Mariah Book.

The Wingers have two regular-season games remaining, starting with Goodhue Monday for a non-conference game on the road. Red Wing closes out the regular season on Tuesday with a Missota Conference match at Chanhassen.

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Joe Brown
Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.
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