By Brian Kalish
October 1, 2019
WAUSAU– For the last three years, Wausau East’s Taylor Pagel has watched as the Wausau West Warriors claimed victory at the annual Volley for the Cure game featuring the two cross-town rivals.
That trend came to a screeching halt on Tuesday night.
Strong play by Pagel and a gutty overall performance from the Lumberjacks turned back the Warriors as Wausau East battled to a 3-1 victory amid a sea of pink as students and fans from both sides of town packed the Wausau West fieldhouse to support their teams and raise money for breast cancer.
How big of a deal was this victory for Pagel and the Lumberjacks?
“We look forward to this game every single year,” Pagel said. “This is a very big game for us. We work hard and we practice a lot for this game. So going into this game and finally coming away with a win– because we haven’t won it since I’ve been in high school– so being a senior and coming in and winning is a really big deal.”
The victory was an important one for East on a number of fronts.
First, the Lumberjacks were fresh off a dismal showing at the first half of the Wisconsin Valley Conference meet on September 21 in Marshfield where they went 0-3 to lurch to a 2-3 conference record. The win against West will undoubtedly help wash away the stain of their most recent struggles.
Secondly, picking up a conference win on the road against their #1 rival is bound to give the Lumberjacks a healthy dose of confidence moving into a match against conference leader SPASH on Thursday.
“We’ve been working so hard,” said East coach Sarah Fisher. “We’ve been working for three weeks and we’ve been battling a few injuries and illnesses. For them to show up tonight and put all of that behind us and just focus on the rest of our year, they did absolutely amazing.”
With a 3-1 final score, one might draw the conclusion that East dominated West, but that really wasn’t the case.
Both teams suffered from an inordinate number of unforced errors and each set was more or less a grinding, see-saw affair.
West jumped out as the aggressor, claiming a 26-24 win in the first set behind the strong play of Robyn Kirsch and Anna Cunningham.
Kirsch finished the match with 19 kills and Cunningham added 13.
West coach Cathy Newton had high praise for Cunningham.
“I thought tonight Anna Cunningham played exceptional,” said Newton. “It seemed like every time she touched the ball she was making something happen. Robyn we expect to play that (way), but I think Anna kind of took it to another level tonight.”
East rebounded in the second set with a 25-21 win and weathered an early 13-10 deficit in the third set to claim a 28-26 win.
The beginning of the fourth set was almost a carbon copy of the third with West jumping out to a 8-3 lead before the Lumberjacks stormed back. Ultimately East came away with a 25-21 win in the final set.
“The third and fourth game, we really struggled with energy for about the first ten points,” Fisher said. “We were just kind of going with the flow of the game and weren’t really playing East volleyball to our full potential. But then something just kind of struck with them and they kind of amped it up and rolled with it. I’m really proud of them for doing that.”
“We had too many unforced errors,” Newton said. “They kept the ball in play and waited for that to happen.”
Pagel paced the Lumberjacks with 20 digs and 13 kills, while Gabby Braatz contributed 17 digs, five aces and 10 assists.
Kendra Behnke led the Lumberjacks with 23 assists.
Newton would have preferred a win, but is emphasizing the fact that there is still a lot of volleyball yet to be played.
“Everything’s still in front of you,” Newton said. “You’ve just got to go get it.”
Meanwhile, East will have a chance to break above the .500 mark in the Valley when they play SPASH on Thursday.
“We’ve definitely had our struggles,” Pagel said. “Not having energy has kind of been a struggle for us. So just finding that momentum and the fight and drive to want to win and get here and beat a top team is a big deal for us. So just practicing and finding that rhythm, that’s huge for us moving forward.”