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Volleyball: Wildcats hold off scrappy Wingers

Goodhue's Emilee Roschen digs up a ball in the back row during the first set of Tuesday's season-opening match against Red Wing.

Both Red Wing and Goodhue had something to prove on Tuesday.

On one end of the floor, a sophomore-heavy lineup charged the net for the Wingers, hoping to put last year’s 4-23 record behind them. And for the Wildcats, Lindsey Mace made her debut as the team’s head coach.

While Red Wing put up a valiant effort as the match went on, Goodhue ultimately left Sonju Gymnasium the victors in a three-set sweep, 25-16, 25-17, 25-22.

“The first things one of my assistants said was, ‘Congratulations, you’re undefeated,’” Mace said jokingly after the victory. “It feels good to win that one.”

The Wildcats started sharp, going up 11-4 in the first set.

“We were so positive in the pre-game,” said Goodhue senior middle hitter Kali Ryan. “We just said, ‘Go out, have a lot of fun,’ and we wanted to win it, of course. We felt pretty comfortable.”

But Red Wing refused to go down quietly. Down 14-8, Red Wing scored five straight points to cut the Wildcats’ lead to one. Ultimately, Goodhue won the first set, but the Wingers showed they were ready for a battle.

“We’re young and that’s going to show, no way around it,” said Red Wing head coach Heidi Ulwelling. “You look at the blocker errors alone … if we clean up that and some of the hitting errors, we’re right in that match.”

The Wingers and Wildcats exchanged the lead several times to open the second set. With Goodhue distributing the attacking evenly among Ryan (7 kills), Meredith Watson (7 kills) and Shelby Hinsch (5 kills), Goodhue was able to rack up the points and force Red Wing into more errors to take a 19-11 advantage in the second set.

Whenever the Wingers got a sign of life, the senior-heavy Wildcats were able to counter and regain the momentum in their favor.

“That’s the benefit of having seven seniors on the floor,” Mace said. “They know what they’re doing; they’ve been playing together forever, they don’t miss a beat and that’s good to see.”

Trying to close out the match, Goodhue got out to a 15-10 lead following a tip by backup setter Michelle Hadler. While some of the Wildcats’ younger players got on the floor, the Wingers surged back, thanks to strong play by attackers Sydney Book and Sara Kelly. After a Goodhue error tied the set at 18-18, Book put the Wingers ahead 19-18 with a kill, and then Kelly responded later with a kill of her own to make it 20-19 Red Wing.

Kelly had three of her four kills in the final set.

“She’s going to be our sparkplug,” Ulwelling said of Kelly. “She’ll be quiet for a while, but she definitely has a lot of potential.”

Ultimately, the Wildcats’ experience proved to be too much. After a pair of Red Wing attacks went into the net, a kill by Deidre O’Reilly put Goodhue up 24-22. The match came to a close on another unforced error by the Wingers.

“This win helps build (our confidence) a lot, for sure,” Ryan said.

Mikayla Tipcke finished with 17 set assists and two ace serves, and libero Emilee Roschen had nine digs for the Wildcats (1-0).

Kelly, Book and Taylor Steger each led Red Wing (0-1) with four kills apiece. Maria Furlong had a team-high seven digs, and McKenzie Cota paced the Wingers’ offense with 13 set assists.

Just the idea that her team hung around for the whole match, and got stronger as each set progressed, has Ulwelling excited about the Wingers’ prospects.

“The biggest thing is they knew they made some mistakes, they knew what those mistakes were and for a young team like this to already tell me accurately where their game went awry is a huge step for us,” Ulwelling said. “I didn’t have to say it, they knew it. I made them tell me and they were right. To see them learning the game, that’s the biggest piece.”

Red Wing heads to Cannon Falls on Thursday, while Goodhue plays host to La Crescent next Tuesday.

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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