Thursday, Oct. 14, the River Falls volleyball team had senior night in their final home regular season game of the year. Kinsley Albores and her parents were the first senior family honored. Photo by Reagan Hoverman
News, Sports

River Falls volleyball wins fifth consecutive conference crown

By Reagan Hoverman

The River Falls High School volleyball team secured the 2021 Big River Conference Championship on Thursday, Oct. 14, at home when the Wildcats defeated Chippewa Falls in three consecutive sets. The conference championship is the Wildcats’ fifth title in the last five full seasons.

To say that the Thursday night volleyball match between River Falls and Chippewa Falls was a clash of the titans would be an understatement. The Wildcats went into the game with a 24-1 record. Chippewa Falls went into the match with a 35-1 record. In total, the two

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Immediately after River Falls scored the final point against Chippewa Falls, starters and bench players rushed the floor to celebrate the 2021 Big Rivers Conference Championship as a team. Photo by Reagan Hoverman teams had won 59 games this season while only suffering two losses.

The game had the highest stakes a regular season matchup can have: One evening of volleyball with the winner taking the conference championship. The match was played at River Falls High School in front of a near-sellout crowd. Chippewa Falls got out to an early 5-3 lead against the Wildcats and eventually grew to a 12-7 advantage midway through the first set.

Moments later, the Wildcats went on a scoring run that eventually gave them a 15-14 lead which forced a Chippewa Falls timeout. The two varsity squads battled back and forth in a tightly contested first set. Various scores throughout the first set included an 18-17 Chippewa Falls lead, a 19-18 River Falls lead, a 21-20 Chippewa Falls lead, and a 23-22 River Falls lead. Both teams battled hard throughout the first set in the best-of-five series. River Falls managed to hold onto the first set with a 25-23 victory. After the series was over, River Falls head coach Sara Kealy spoke about the competitive first set.

“That first set was outstanding, I think that just shows that we’ve been there before and they’re not quite there yet in terms of experience,” Kealy said. “Once they lost that first set, it seemed like a different team. You play so hard and you’re so close and when you don’t get over the hump it’s very deflating. Coming back out to match that energy is very tough. They’ve got young players; I’m expecting this rivalry to be around for a couple of years.”

Kealy referred to Chippewa Falls playing like a different team after they lost the first set against River Falls. After a highly competitive first set, Chippewa Falls began the second set flat. River Falls got out to an early 14-7 lead. Chippewa Falls struggled to maintain the energy that they displayed in the first set. River Falls finished off the second set with a 2514 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

The third set was more of the same for the Wildcats. Chippewa Falls got out to a small 4-2 lead to start the set. However, the Wildcats took a 6-5 lead and never looked back. River Falls won the third set 25-19 to complete the sweep. Chippewa Falls only has two losses this season, both of them came against River Falls. Coach Kealy talked about the conference championship victory after the match.

“It’s amazing (to be conference champions again),” Kealy said. “I was super excited to have a team like Chippewa Falls that is just on the rise and you know they will give you a good match. This was an amazing match. We haven’t had a match like this probably since our 2017 season. To have a team like Chippewa that was a really strong competitor, I think made the community more excited. The student section was really into it tonight. What a great way to have a senior night, to have a packed house like this.”

River Falls was selected as the top seed for the Division One sectional one bracket. Because of that, the Wildcats have a first-round bye. The first game of the playoffs for River Falls will be played in River Falls on Saturday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. The Wildcats will play the winner of either New Richmond or Eau Claire North, both teams River Falls has defeated easily this season. Coach Kealy talked about how important it was to have an important match before the playoffs begin.

“We needed this match to go into the weekend,” Kealy said after the victory. “Because we were in a little bit of that midseason lull. We had taken some days off for homecoming and some other stuff. We needed something that made the girls focus back in and prepare. Having an environment like this helps when we get down the road in the playoffs. Most likely we will see them in the sectional final.”

If that matchup in the sectional final were to happen, it would be played at a neutral site. However, the site is predetermined, and that venue has been chosen as Chippewa Falls.

RFHS senior Dani Lien and her parents receive recognition on Thursday, Oct. 14, at senior night. Lien has been one of the most impactful seniors on the Wildcats roster this season.Photo by Reagan Hoverman

RFHS junior Morgan Kealy sets the ball for senior middle blocker Haley Graetz. Kealy, Graetz, and theWildcats swept Chippewa Falls 3-0 for the conference championship on Thursday night. Photo by Reagan Hoverman

October 20, 2021