Pacelli volleyball wins Conference Title, ready for postseason
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With a rotation full of new faces, the Pacelli Catholic High School volleyball team won its second consecutive Conference Title this season.
The Cardinals went unbeaten in the Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC) South during the regular season, then swept the CWC South Tournament at the Pacelli Student Activities Center Saturday, Oct. 6, to wrap up the Conference Title.
“We’ve had a really good season,” said Pacelli volleyball head coach Jackie Struble. “We’ve played an extremely hard schedule this year and put ourselves up against some top teams.
“We’ve had some really good, big wins, and we’ve competed against teams like (second-ranked) Aquinas, Regis and (top-ranked) Stratford,” she said.
The Cardinals lost CWC South Player of the Year Paige Hintz, fellow First Team CWC South selections Brooke Schroeder and Danielle Filtz, and Second Team All-CWC South selection Shannon Leary from last year’s team that won the inaugural CWC South Title and advanced to the WIAA Division 3 Regional Finals.
“We have a lot of juniors and seniors on the team, but with one exception, all of our juniors didn’t play varsity last year,” said Struble. “So two-thirds of our team hasn’t really been at this pace, and playing this tempo.
“So it’s been really good to see how we’ve improved over time and gotten better,” she said.
Pacelli has been led this season by the return of First Team All-CWC South senior setter Karah Kluck and second Team All-CWC South junior libero Madison Hintz, along with seniors Emily King and Teesa Shafranski.
“Karah is just an amazing player, she’s been on varsity for four years and we really couldn’t be where we are this year without her; she’s really dynamic, she’s energetic and as a setter, she really gets our hitters what they need,” said Struble. “Madi has been playing on varsity since her freshman year, she did not play libero last year, so she’s been doing a really great job stepping back into that role and really making an impact.
“Emily’s been hurt a little bit here and there this season, she’s our power hitter, and when she’s on, it’s fantastic,” she said. “Teesa’s been on varsity as well for four years, but she’s always played kind of a supporting role, and this year she’s really improved her passing and has become a better back row player for us.”
Junior Sarah Mueller also saw playing time last year, and has been joined in the Cardinals’ rotation this season by sophomores Molly Lawlis and Julia Jakusz, and freshman Kylie Struble.
“Sarah is outstanding, she’s one of our captains this year, and really someone the team relies on,” said coach Struble. “She’s won some big games for us, really stepped up from a blocking perspective and hitting, and she sees the court well.
“Julia and Molly are two of our sophomores that have really stepped up and done really, really well for us this year,” she said. “And Kylie is really doing well from a serving perspective, both her and Madi are in the Top 10 players for aces in Division 3 right now, and she’s really playing great defense.”
Meanwhile, senior Mackenzie Cashin, juniors Paige Schroeder and Haley Raflik, and sophomore Emma Van Order have also seeing playing time this season.
“Emma’s getting a little bit of time filling in outside for Emily once in a while, and Haley’s a leader in the back row,” said coach Struble. “We play nine-ish players, and this year is a team of, ‘everybody really has to do their job for us to win.’”
Pacelli went 6-0 in the CWC South during the regular season to hold the conference lead over Rosholt (5-1) heading into the Conference Tournament last Saturday, where the Cardinals swept Wild Rose (25-21, 25-8) and Almond-Bancroft (25-6, 25-14) to advance to the Championship Game against Rosholt.
There, Pacelli won 25-21 and 25-16 to finish 9-0 in conference matches and 24-0 in conference sets for the second year in a row.
“Coming into the season, we knew winning conference was a good goal for us, and something we thought we could do,” said coach Struble. “We didn’t want to lose a match, but then as the season went on and we realized how strong we were becoming, our goal became not to drop a set, which is the same thing they did last year.
“We didn’t know what it would be like this year, and with a whole different dynamic, it could’ve gone any way,” she said. “But the girls have really grown and really learned and tried to improve over the season, so it’s been really nice.”
Kluck led the Cardinals at the Conference Tournament with 52 assists, Madison Hintz had 15 digs and six aces, Mueller totaled 12 kills and six blocks, Jakusz finished with 15 kills, Lawlis had 11 kills, and Raflik recorded 16 digs.
The Cardinals were back for a nonconference matchup in the regular-season finale against Wittenberg-Birnamwood for Senior Day Tuesday, Oct. 9, where Pacelli dropped the first set 25-19 to fall behind 1-0.
The Cardinals bounced back with 25-17 and 25-15 wins to take a 2-1 lead, but Wittenberg won 25-18 in the fourth set, and scored the final three points in the deciding fifth set to win 16-14 and pull out a 3-2 victory.
“Tonight was just a bad night for us,” said coach Struble after the loss. “We didn’t play well, and it is not at all what we’ve done this season.
“We’ve really been playing quite fantastic up to this point,” she said.
Pacelli is set to open the WIAA Division 3 Playoffs at home against a yet-to-be-announced opponent in the Regional Quarterfinals Tuesday, Oct. 16, with the Regional Semifinals at home scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 18, and the Regional Finals on the road Saturday, Oct. 20.
“In our Sectional, Oconto is a fantastic team, Crivitz and St. Mary (Catholic) have had really good seasons, and Amherst is also a very good team,” said coach Struble. “But when we look at that center group of teams, two through six, we’re all pretty equal.
“So it’s anybody’s game, as to how far we go,” she said. “We’ve really competed well against some big teams, and it gives us hope that if we make it that far to the Regional Final, that we’ll be able to compete.”