HOLMEN — A healthy supply of resistance surrounded the volleyball net that was set up in the middle of the Bernie L. Ferry Fieldhouse at Holmen High School on Saturday.
Free swingers lined up on both sides as top-seeded Holmen battled eighth-seeded Monona Grove over a WIAA Division 1 regional championship.
Within that game, junior Kyla Christnovich made sure the Vikings had the advantage in what turned out to be a 25-17, 25-19, 25-23 victory that sent them to a sectional semifinal against fourth-seeded Verona on Thursday.
The Vikings (27-2) and Wildcats (33-7) square off in a 5 p.m. semifinal at DeForest. Waunakee and Middleton meet in the second semifinal with the winners of those matches playing each other in Baraboo on Oct. 30.
Holmen earned its sectional spot by doing many things well while sweeping the Silver Eagles, but its ability to block made a difference.
Christnovich had three blocks, but she her teammates got there hands on many more Monona Grove shots to extend points and deny the Silver Eagles on what looked like good chances.
“They did really well with their blocking tonight,” Holmen coach Sammi Maier said of the Vikings. “I think it definitely clicked for us because (the Silver Eagles) were takinig some big swings just like we were.
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“The girls knew they needed to be up and ready, and they did a great job with timing and figuring that block out.”
Holmen did so without senior Harley Bartels, who sat out the match with a couple of nagging injuries. Bartles has a team-high 63 blocks — including 45 solos — and Maier hopes to have her back on the court soon.
Christnovich and senior Chloe Hammond seemed to make the biggest impact against a team they expected to come with those big swings.
“We played them in a tournament this season, so we had some knowledge of them from that,” said Holmen senior Mara Schmidt, a Southern Mississippi beach volleyball recruit who entered the match with a team-high 215 kills. “We knew who the key players were and the key hitters were. We did a good job talking about where they were while we were on the court.”
Sophomore Brooklyn Totorice was one of those players, and while she ended up with 4½ blocks, the Vikings did a good job of keeping her ineffective for stretches between big plays. Senior Emersyn Lang led the Silver Eagles with nine kills.
Christnovich also led Holmen with eight kills, while sophomore Rayna McArdle added seven to go with 17 assists and 10 digs. Ellie Kline had 22 digs and Marissa Pederson 13 assists for Holmen, which has swept three straight opponents since a two-set invitational loss to Kettle Moraine
The Vikings maintained control of the Silver Eagles for most of the championship match, but monona Grove made a nice run at Holmen in the third set.
The Vikings led the third until the Silver Eagles made a five-point run and took a 17-16 lead. A Lang kill later increased that lead to 20-17.
A late timeout gave the Vikings the final spark they needed to finish off the Silver Eagles before getting to a fourth set.
“The championship was on the line, so we talked about opportunity,” Maier said. “We were at home in our last game here, and did we want it to go to a fourth set or finish it?”
The season now shifts to neutral sites, which is where every team wants to be. The Vikings are two victories away from become state qualifiers for the first time, but they know the path in those two matches can be a difficult one.
“It’s bittersweet (to be done playing at home,” Kline said. “The homecourt feeling is a feeling that’s never better. Our community supports us, and our student section is definitely huge.
“We have to go to those neutral sites and bring the same energy we do here.”
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX