A big kill in volleyball is a like a slam dunk in basketball, a home run in baseball and softball and long touchdown in football.
It provides a spark, ignites a bench and its energy can lead to a big scoring run.
Outside hitters who are more than capable of electrifying a gymnasium with thunderous spikes are littered across the Chippewa Valley this fall, and it’s a big reason why a plethora of area teams have legitimate chances at making a deep run this postseason, which starts tonight.
And the thing that perhaps is the most frightening for other teams is that this isn’t the first go-around for many of these impact players — Shae Brey of Regis, Kristi and KaSandra Springer of Altoona, Jamie Reit of Stanley-Boyd, Emily Johannes of Immanuel Lutheran, Hannah Flatness of Elk Mound and Morgan Thesing-Ritter of Memorial, just to name a few — are basically juniors and seniors.
“I think there’s a lot this year compared to others, but they are also all experienced outside hitters. It’s not just their first years on varsity,” Regis coach Kendra Pagel said. “There’s been some big players in the past, but I think this year the outside hitters do stand out.”
Unofficially, Brey leads all of Wisconsin with 542 regular season kills. She said producing a kill in a crucial situation can get her team out of a funk, which is something she takes a lot of pride in as an outside hitter.
“It pumps everybody up and sort of gets us going when we’re down,” she said.
As much as one hitter has the ability to take over a match, however, a lot of it has to do with how good of a team there is behind that player, Brey said.
Altoona’s KaSandra Springer agreed and said there is no possible way to rack up enough kills to change the game if there aren’t strong sets or bumps preceding them.
Vision is key in producing a big hit, but there needs to be eyes all over the court to make it happen.
“When you can’t see the court, you can’t really see the ball,” Springer said. “A lot of it helps with your back row, because they can see more than you can. It’s a team effort, and if you have a good team standing behind you, you’re going to be a good hitter.”
Six schools in the immediate area — Altoona and Rice Lake in Division 2, Regis and Stanley-Boyd in Division 3 and Immanuel Lutheran and Augusta in Division 4 — have No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals.
Almost all of them not only have strong outsides, but very capable setters who can put the ball wherever their net-dominating teammate needs it.
“It’s just knowing your hitter and knowing that they are going to do the rest of the work,” Immanuel Lutheran setter Kayla Barthels said.
That’s exactly what hitters in the area have been doing for the entire regular season, particularly in the Western Cloverbelt, where big hitters are on almost every team.
Pagel said back row players have benefited from that as they have a chance to defend those hard hit balls every day in practice delivered from their own big hitter, and that will be advantageous as the playoffs progress.
“It’s nice when we scrimmage at the end of practices and things like that,” Pagel said. “Shae and Tori (Matson) are the ones getting the majority of the balls on our team, so they are defending against those outside hitters.”
Brey said the toughest part about stopping a really strong outside hitter is trying to figure out the placement of the ball, which requires a lot of anticipation while the play is developing on the other side of the net.
“You never know where they are going to hit it,” she said. “They can go down the line or cross or tip in. You just always have to be prepared.”
These heavy-hitting units hope others within their brackets won’t be able to pick up where the ball is on a booming kill, and those types of excitement plays could be a blueprint for teams getting to the Resch Center. Here’s a closer look at each division.
After stumbling out of the gates a little bit to begin the year, Memorial went on a tear to finish off the schedule and went undefeated in conference play to nab its second consecutive Big Rivers title.
Morgan Thesing-Ritter became the spark plug of the team and has the ability to change the game from the front of the net as well as the back.
The Old Abes are the No. 3 seed in their sectional and could wind up with No. 6 North in the regional final Saturday. Memorial opens Thursday with No. 14 Wisconsin Rapids, while the Huskies, led by blocker Nikki Kilboten and hitters Brianna Banks and Kate Klauck, open with No. 11 Wausau East.
Marshfield is the No. 1 seed in the sectional, while D.C. Everest is the No. 2.
Memorial played D.C. Everest on Monday night and lost 3-0, although the Old Abes were competitive in two of the three sets. They beat the Evergreens at a tournament early in the year, and coach Kris Chapman said as long as they stay within their system, they should be all right.
“We just need to be ready to play and definitely play our game,” Chapman said. “Hopefully we can get back in our rhythm.”
Kayla Sluis is also a force around the net for Memorial.
Altoona, the fifth-ranked team in the latest Division 2 coaches’ poll, mowed down almost everybody in the regular season en route to an area-best 39-3 record. The Rails won the Western Cloverbelt and solidified their spot as the conference’s top dog after steamrolling Spencer in the first-place match of the Cloverbelt Crossover on Thursday night.
“We’re always going to take it one game at a time ... but we’re in for the long haul, and I hope we go deep in playoffs,” coach Elissa Upward said after beating the Rockets on Thursday night. “Actually, I want to go to state.”
They could match up with Rice Lake in the sectional semifinals Oct. 29. Rice Lake High School already has been the named the site for that match.
Altoona went to state in 2013.
Regis (28-8) won’t see any ranked teams on its path to the state tournament, but with the way Pagel has had her club playing the last month of the season, it might not matter who is in front of the Ramblers.
After picking up a quartet of wins at the Wausau West Invitational over the weekend, the Ramblers finished the year on a 22-5 run, which included a stretch of 17 victories in 18 tries. Perhaps their toughest game will be a potential regional final against Fall Creek. While the Crickets stumbled down the stretch, they took Regis to five sets on Sept. 10.
“We just have to continue playing with the aggressiveness we’ve been playing with this season,” Pagel said. “The biggest thing is staying focused on our next game. It’s hard not to look down the road, but you can’t get down there unless you beat the team in front of you.”
Regis won the state championship in 2013.
Stanley-Boyd has the ability to go on big scoring runs with the bump-set-spike combo of libero Bailey Ducommon, setter Jenna Hoffstatter and hitter Jamie Reit. However, before the Resch Center, the Orioles would have to go up against defending state champion Marathon in the regional as well as the state’s current No. 1 team, Oshkosh Lourdes, in the sectional.
Immanuel Lutheran came within a point of winning the Dairlyand Conference for the first time since 2009, and its balance and aggressive play could make it a big threat in Division 4. The Lancers could play McDonell in the regional final. They would not play a ranked team on the way to state.
The Macks played in the tough Western Cloverbelt all year, which could pay dividends as they face smaller schools in the playoffs.
“We’re in a really tough conference, but we have improved tremendously over the year,” McDonell co-coach Kat Hanson said. “I think we’re peaking at the right time, but you have to beat teams no matter what seed you are and what gymnasium you play in.”
Augusta would match up against two state-ranked teams before Green Bay.