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Volleyball: Wingers' slide continues

Joe Brown/Republican Eagle Red Wing libero Abigail Johnson digs up a serve during Tuesday's non-conference match against Winona at Red Wing High School. Johnson was one of three Winger players to dress as a libero during the match.

On the heels of its sixth straight loss after falling 3-0 to Winona Tuesday, the Red Wing volleyball team met in the locker room for over a half hour.

One of the first points brought up by the Winger players: hold each other accountable.

"I had my captains look at me and say, 'Coach, you can get on us a little more,'" said Red Wing head coach Heidi Ulwelling.

Winless in non-tournament games this season, things did not bode well for the Wingers against a Winhawks squad that has not lost outside of tournament play. Winona won Tuesday in convincing fashion, 25-9, 25-7, 25-12.

After going 0-4 in a tournament in Wabasha-Kellogg last weekend, Ulwelling said many of the same problems that plagued the Wingers at the tournament were still hovering over the team Tuesday.

"This was very indicative of how we played on Saturday," Ulwelling said. "Very unfocused. No one's fixing their mistakes. Communication went down the hill.

"Communication is the biggest thing with this team. We got a couple of communicators, and those communicators work so hard in games 1 and 2, and by the third game, they shut down. And when they shut down, we don't have anything."

At the service line, the Winhawks took complete control of the match. As a team, Winona finished with 12 service aces, with Audrey Scharmer accounting for six of the aces. She also had seven kills and a pair of ace blocks.

"We were passing the ball too tight," Ulwelling said. "When we pass tight, in our 6-2 offense, a back row setter can't get into the horizontal plane."

The Winhawks' Cassidy Bittle led all players with eight kills, while Ellen Blacklock swung her way to seven kills. Larissa Verbeke solidified the back row with 10 digs, and Dulcey Milek had 28 set assists for Winona.

With seven games left to go in the regular season, Ulwelling is still looking for the right lineup for her team to find some sustained success. During Tuesday's match, the Wingers played three different liberos.

"I'm still searching for what's going to work," Ulwelling said. "The last couple years I've been coaching, I've tried to make the girls flexible on the court. ... I'm still trying to figure out what's going to connect."

After airing out some of their frustrations following Tuesday's loss, Ulwelling was encouraged, but knows the Wingers are up for another tough test come Thursday. Red Wing returns to Missota Conference play on the road against Chaska, which was ranked 10th in this week's Class 3A volleyball poll.

"I got a couple players on the team that work hard to win," Ulwelling said, "It's just how hard do they want to fight to win."