Sept. 12, 2019

By Scott Williams

STEVENS POINT – Two of the elite power attackers in the Wisconsin Valley Conference volleyball scene went head-to-head Thursday night.

On one side of the court was high-flying Wausau West junior hitter Robyn Kirsch. Across the net stood SPASH’s lanky and athletic Maddy Dokken.

In the end Dokken received a little more help from her friends and the Panthers spoiled the conference opener by sweeping West 25-19, 27-25, 25-21 at the SPASH Fieldhouse.

SPASH moves to 2-0 in the Valley. The Warriors will look to put this one behind them and correct some of the issues that surfaced in the opener.

“This is just the first (Valley match). We need to get better with our defense. That’s really been a strength for us and wasn’t as much tonight,” said West coach Cathy Newton, who reached the 700-win milestone earlier this season.

“We just have to get back to trusting each other, playing together. We have a chance to play everybody (in the conference) twice. That’s an awesome thing and we need to be better next time we play them.”

While the West defense may not have been up to its usual standards, the Panthers put on a defensive clinic. Open hitting lanes were tough to come by for the Warriors.

SPASH was able to keep Kirsch and most of the hitters relatively quiet.

Warriors’ setter Grace Michalske went to the returning first team all-conference hitter early and often. She set Kirsch in the back row. On the outside and in the middle.

But Kirsch was unable to get untracked and was limited to a rather pedestrian 11 kills.

If they did manage to beat the block of Hilirie McLaughlin, Amahra Matthai and Dokken, SPASH’s back row seemed to dig up everything to keep SPASH in the point.

“I would say that is probably the best defense we’ve seen all year,” Newton said.

West refused to let Dokken find a rhythm in the opening set.

That’s where the Panthers’ Olivia Stroik, Andrea Zwicker and Matthai enter the picture, especially in the first set.

Just about every SPASH hitter consistently found a way to score off the Warrior block, with the ball either falling into an open spot on the court or out of bounds.

“We have a very strong backcourt. Not only with serve receive, but in our defense,” SPASH coach Molly Williams said. “I could not be prouder of what we’re doing, picking up balls and making it difficult for teams to score on us.”

West gave every indication it was ready to put the opening set behind them.

A stronger defensive performance and contributions at the net from Kiley Deaton, Anna Cunningham and Kirsch enabled the Warriors to build a late 22-19 cushion.

However, Dokken started to get a hot hand. And SPASH made points tougher to come by the closer the Warriors got to wrapping up the second set.

Throw in some service errors by the Warriors late in the set and a chance to even the match slowly slipped away from them. Dokken finished them off with a monster kill.

We don’t give up. That what I love about this team. The amount of grit that they have,” Williams said. “We have huge players stepping up in the right moments. Maddy Dokken being one of them. She was a forced to be reckoned with as that match continued. You couldn’t stop her.”

SPASH rode the momentum of the late comeback into what turned out to be the final set.

Dokken continued to cause the Warriors, who found themselves in a seven-point hole early on in the third set, fits. Her fill put the finishing touches on the sweep.

Who knows what might have happened if West had managed to close out the second set.

There were plenty of encouraging signs for the Warriors. Michalske finished with 26 assists. The defense also had its moments led by Kirsch and Jenna Rusch with 19 and 18 digs, respectively.

“The biggest thing was their defense frustrated us and it took us a little while to get our block game going,” Newton said. “We’ve just got to finish. That’s about confidence. You have to learn when you make a mistake, you have to be ready to play the next ball.”