The Mercer volleyball team set out to become conference champions when they hosted Ironwood on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
The Tigers beat Ironwood 3-0 (25-10, 25-14, 25-16) and won the Indianhead conference with a perfect 9-0 conference record.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment for these kids,” coach Robyn Schoeneman said. “We talked about goals at the beginning of the year. Our first goal was to beat Washburn, check it off, then we wanted to win a tournament, check it off.”
It is the Tigers’ first conference title since 2017 and second since 2001.
“We wanted to win the conference championship and we’ve checked that off the list. We received the No. 1 seed which is something we wanted to do,” coach Schoeneman said. “A lot of boxes got checked tonight.”
Aubrey Schoeneman displayed her skills early on in the first set. She powered down three kills and two aces to give the Tigers an 11-6 lead.
Ella Torkelson proved to be the team’s best passer. She recorded all the assists on all kills in the first set. Zoe Botes and KD Knipp also had kills.
The defining moment in the first set came on a 9-0 run. The Tigers were on their game, finishing off points with good attacks.
Ava Barton scored three different ways. One kill was dug by Aubrey Schoeneman and assisted by Torkelson. Another kill came on a free ball that Ava Barton took advantage of for a kill. And the other came on a tip over the net.
Samantha Barton recorded two digs and an ace in the final five set points. Jessica Klopatek tipped it over for the first set win.
Set two saw more dominance by the Tigers. They led 12-2 to start the set, including kills by Ava Barton, Aubrey Schoeneman and Klopatek.
On one of the plays, Molly Hohner got the dig, Torkelson the assist and Ava Barton the kill.
Ironwood followed that run with one of their own. Once down 12-2, Ironwood cut it in half to 12-7. The Tigers responded with a 7-0 run, increasing their lead to 19-7.
Samantha Barton had multiple digs that led to kills by Aubrey Schoeneman and Knipp. One of the digs also came to sister Ava Barton, who finished it off for a big point.
Set three went back-and-forth between both teams. Ironwood recored their first lead of the game early. Then, the Tigers would tie it and take the lead.
Then Ironwood would take the lead, followed by Mercer again. Every time it looked like the Tigers would take control of the game, Ironwood tied it up. The game was tied at 14-14. That would be the last time it would be tied.
“We were definitely playing to the level of the competition and we’ve got to stop doing that. We cannot have those moments of complacency,” coach Schoeneman said. “I know that the game wasn’t all that exciting, however it was something, we’ve just got to maintain that excitement.”
Ava Barton dug the next point, Torkelson set it and Aubrey Schoeneman had the kill.
An Aubrey Schoeneman ace was followed by two Ava Barton kills. The Tigers led 23-15 and could feel it. Ava Barton took advantage of another free ball and the Tigers were one point away. They won the next point and became conference champions.
Mercer had ended the set on a 11-2 run, playing complete team volleyball.
Now that the schedule is set, the Tigers will begin preparations to make a long playoff run.
“All of the pomp and circumstance is over, all the celebration is over, and you can get back to focused practices, focused volleyball and we’re going to do a lot of passing,” coach Schoeneman said.
Their first regional game came Thursday, Oct. 24 against the winner of the Northwood/South Shore game. Coverage of that game will be in the Oct. 29 edition of The Times.
“This meant a lot to them and it’s been a great ride and I know they’re not ready for it to the end,” coach Schoeneman said. “They’re going to keep fighting as long as they can. They’ve done an outstanding job and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
With a win, the Tigers would play the regional final Saturday, Oct. 26 at Mercer starting at 7 p.m.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]