BLOOMER — This was not supposed to be Bloomer’s year.
The Blackhawks lost eight seniors last year, including a pair of collegiate volleyball players, to graduation. They were supposed to take a step back after making the sectional finals last year.
Even head coach Liz Bohl thought so.
“Had you asked me in August if we were going to make it to the state tournament, I’m not sure I would have said yes,” she said trying to hold back the obvious answer. “I guess probably not.”
And yet, after a thrilling 21-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23, 15-12 victory over Mosinee on Saturday, Bloomer punched its ticket to the state volleyball tournament in Green Bay for the first time in school history.
“I think it’s the mentality of this group of girls,” Bohl said. “They’re very team oriented and willing to learn and try new things.”
They’ve gone from being star-oriented to team-oriented and it’s shown on the court. The workload has been more spread out, forcing opposing teams to play a more balanced defense instead of keying in on one or two players.
“I feel like this year we’re better prepared to adjust and we have different people step up if someone is struggling,” Bohl said.
It took some time for Bohl to come up with the appropriate strategy for her new personnel.
The Blackhawks were a totally different team when the season started at the Whitewater tournament in late August according to Bohl. Their 3-4 record and 11th place finish at the tournament was a wake-up call to everyone.
“It introduced us to harder teams so we knew where we needed to go and what we needed to work on to play at that higher level,” senior Larissa Fossum said.
A month later, after a 25-19, 25-21, loss to Osceola at the Husky Invite, Bohl realized her team had to adapt.
“We kind of came back into the gym and realized we need to have two things happen,” Bohl said. “We needed to practice against quick middles because we got burned, our defense wasn’t ready for it, and we realized we should be a quick hitting middle team.”
That’s when things began to click.
Emma Krejci was pushed into the spotlight, although not nearly to the same extent as last season’s stars. Her 225 kills this season don’t even lead the team, but her team-leading .320 hit percentage and 39.5% kill percentage make her truly special.
“If we need a kill, that’s who you set it to just because she has been statistically speaking our most effective at it,” Bohl said.
Since tweaking their offense after the Husky Invite, the Blackhawks have gone 21-1, sweeping their Heart O’North conference schedule 8-0 and avenging their loss to Osceola with a 25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 25-23, victory in the sectional semifinals.
They’ve come together as a team, building off each other’s strengths to find ways to win almost every match.
“We are a true fighting team, we don’t give up until the very last point,” Alexa Post said.
Now the question is can they beat Division 2’s No. 1-seeded McFarland and avenge their 25-22, 25-21, loss from the Whitehall tournament when they play the Spartans on Friday?
It’s going to be very tough. The Spartans are tall and talented, with four girls listed at 5-foot-10 or taller, including 6-foot-2 middle blocker Katie Hildebrandt.
That type of player has given the Blackhawks trouble in the past, but they neutralized Osceola’s 6-foot-1 Makena Hollman in the sectional semifinals. And with the way this season has gone, the Blackhawks seem like the team of destiny.