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Epic comeback effort comes up just short for Raiders in 3-2 loss

Epic comeback effort comes up just short for Raiders in 3-2 loss Epic comeback effort comes up just short for Raiders in 3-2 loss


One point away from being swept, the Medford Raiders almost completed the improbable comeback in Thursday’s WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal.

But in a match where momentum went back and forth, especially in the latter half, Lakeland had the final say, winning game five 15-12 to advance to Saturday’s regional final in Merrill, which the T-Birds lost in three games.

In the first WIAA tournament experience for all but two of the Raiders who saw playing time, Medford didn’t appear to start the match with nerves. Lakeland made a late rally to steal game one and simply played much better in game two and much of game three.

When things started clicking, the Raiders got back to looking like the much-improved team they’d been in the second half of their condensed 2020 season.

“I’m just so proud of how this group just does not give up,” Medford head coach Cheryl Schreiner said.

Things looked bleak in game three when, already facing a two games to none deficit, the Raiders trailed 21-12 and then 23-13 off a big kill from rising freshman hitter Meg Pfannerstill and a Medford miscue. Rynn Ruesch’s roll found a hole, then Lakeland made three mistakes and called a timeout. Suddenly, there was hope on the Raiders’ end of the court.

A hitting error by Pfannerstill and a kill from Ruesch cut the lead to 23-19, but an error put Lakeland at match point. A lift call on Lakeland, a deep kill from Ruesch and a misplayed serve by Allie Paulson cut it to 24-22. Paulson then ripped off back-to-back aces to tie it. Katie Brehm then recorded back-to-back monster block kills to give Medford a 26-24 win and, for the first time since early in game one, momentum and confidence.

Riding that wave, Medford looked like a different team in game four. Ruesch blocked a tip attempt, Martha Miller rolled an ace off the net and Ruesch got another kill in an opening 7-3 run. Laurissa Klapatauskas got a kill off a Paulson assist, Paulson scored on a tip at the net and Ruesch nailed a big kill during a 5-0 run that made it 12-6. Medford opened up a 15-7 lead and kept a comfortable margin until Lakeland made a late surge, pulling within 23-21 before a missed serve and then Miller’s kill off a T-Bird blocker finished the set at 25-21 and tied the match.

“What I’m learning about this group is that they have to play loose,” Schreiner said. “If they come out tense or nervous, we even say the word panicked, they don’t play well. As soon as they take a step back and take a breath, and everybody does their job out there, they flow much better.

“I don’t feel the girls looked past them, I really don’t,” she added. “In the first two sets we had way too many unforced errors, way too many unforced hitting errors. We talked about cleaning that up. That was our focus at practice all week was taking care of the ball and putting it in a smart spot, not in the middle of the net.

I thought we recovered from it well. For example, Rynn struggled at first in those last couple points of the first set, but she came back just on fire in the second one. I think that shows some mental maturity.”

The decisive fifth game was close all the way with just small mid- and lategame spurts by Lakeland proving to be the difference. Tips by Klapatauskas and Ruesch gave Medford 2-1 and 3-2 leads. Brehm’s attack rolled off the net and down for a 4-3 lead. Katie Lybert’s perfectly- placed push put Medford up 5-4.

After a 6-6 tie, a double-hit call, something that plagued Medford on several occasions, gave Lakeland the lead and Pfannerstill got a kill. Klapatauskas answered with a kill, but Lakeland’s Katherine Tiffany got a kill and the Raiders misplayed Megan Haggart’s serve. Pfannerstill ended a good rally between the teams with a kill off the net to push Lakeland to an 11-7 lead.

Back came the Raiders with a winner from Klapatauskas and her block on Pfannerstill as well as roll from Ruesch highlighting a 4-0 run that tied it at 11-11. But another costly double-hit and an unfortunate bounce of a ball off the ceiling, put Lakeland up 13-11. An error got Medford within one, but a kill and an ace from Pfannerstill sealed Lakeland’s win and revenge from a 3-0 sweep Medford handed it just 16 days earlier.

“Their number 12 (Pfannerstill) is going to be quite the force in the future,” Schreiner said.

The Raiders also lamented the first game getting away from them. A little serving run by Paulson put them up 19-14 and in control. But Callie Ullius made a big play for the T-Birds when her chicken-wing save of what appeared to be a sure kill by Lybert wound up being a kill for Lakeland, sparking a run that pulled the T-Birds within 20-19. Medford went up 22-20, trailed 23-22, led 24-23 on a Klapatauskas deep kill, but then gave up three straight points and lost 26-24.

Lakeland led 12-3 to start game two and 22-10 later on. Miller’s serving sparked a run that got the Raiders within five, but that was as close as they would get in a 25-19 loss.

“There is just no give up in that group; there really isn’t, which is nice to see,” Schreiner said. “Like I told some of the girls leaving the gym, now we can take this level to next year. We have some holes to fill with our seniors (Marissa Fronk and Allie Wesle) leaving, but we can take this level and take it into next year with the energy and everything.”

Ruesch had 13 kills in the loss, Klapatauskas had 11 and Miller added nine. Paulson was the ace leader with four, followed by Olivia Krug with three and Fronk and Miller with two each.

The eye-popping stat of the night was the nine solo blocks from Brehm. Paulson had four and Ruesch had three.

“Blocking is your first line of defense,” Volleyball

Schreiner said. “Hopefully we can even improve on what we’re doing right now because with a couple of our blocks, the girls are hitting hard and they’re going out. We have to focus on putting our hands up and over and down. That’s just that learning curve. I thought Katie Brehm improved every set throughout the match. That’s a nice stat.”

Lybert had a team-high 25 digs, Miller had 22 and Krug had 21. Klapatauskas added 14, Paulson had 10 and Fronk had nine.

The Raiders finished the year 6-6 with five of those wins coming in a mid-season stretch of six matches from late September to mid-October.

“This year has been a strange, strange trip,” Schreiner said. “You just didn’t know what was going to happen on any given day. Every day we had in the gym was a gift, it really was.”

Gabby Brunner tries to punch this ball past Lakeland blocker Meg Pfannerstill during game one of Thursday’s regional semifinal.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS

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