Big games, electric crowds and exciting wins are one of many joys of high school sports. The Mercer volleyball team experienced that.
Agains one of its biggest rivals Tuesday night, Mercer delivered in front of the home crowd, knocking off Washburn in straight sets 25-15, 25-14, 25-22.
That came on the heels of a runner-up finish this past weekend for the Tigers in the Zosel Invitational at Northwestern High School in Maple.
Indianhead Conference play resumed Tuesday for Mercer with a big game against rival Washburn in front of a packed crowd at John “JP” Pierpont Court and the home team delivered.
“It’s something that’s eluded us many, many times. It was a big game. We knew what they were bringing in. Last year our season ended against them,” Schoeneman said. “From the first day of practice we started talking about Washburn. It means more than Washburn, but the first round of sectionals the higher seed gets to host, so for me that was huge.”
The match got off to an electric start in the first set. The first point couldn’t have been scripted any more perfect. Zoe Botes dug the opening serve, Ella Torkelson placed it in a perfect spot and Aubrey Schoeneman threw it down with speed. Tigers led 1-0.
Then, a great rally broke out. Back and forth the ball went with both teams trying to for the kill. Schoeneman got a chance again and slammed one into the court. The crowd went crazy and the Tigers led 2-0.
Aubrey Schoeneman followed that up with a block for the next point. She finished with 22 kills, four digs and one ace.
“(Aubrey’s) a finisher,” coach Schoeneman said. “We have fantastic defense and a wonderful setter and Aubrey — we go to her when the ball needs to be finished.”
But Washburn followed that up with six straight points, forcing the Tigers to call their first timeout. Washburn led 6-3.
The game settled down from there on for Mercer. This time Aubrey Schoeneman dug one up, Torkelson passed it and Botes put it down for the point. The score was 12-12. That point started a huge 13-3 run for the Tigers.
Botes finished with 3 kills and Torkelson recorded 26 assists, one ace and three digs.
Twice during that run, Jessica Klopatek placed the ball perfectly in the back corner of the court for points. Ava Barton had a variety of digs during the run as well. Schoeneman ended it with an ace.
Klopatek finished with four kills and three aces.
“Every single one of them gave all they had tonight,” coach Schoeneman said. “From Molly Hohner going into the stands to save a ball, Sam Barton digging, Ava Barton passing and hitting, Ella Torkelson running the offense, Zoe Botes and KD Knipp taking care of the middle, Jessica Klopatek finding the open spots with her tips, Haley Allen’s serving, and Aubrey putting the ball down — they all did their part.”
The second set was much of the same. The game started close, then the Tigers pulled away. Aubrey Schoeneman kept the game close. Early on, she had two kills and an ace. The Tigers led 6-5.
Haley Allen put up good serves throughout the evening, including an ace that put them up 12-8.
The big moment of the second set came on a 6-0 run by the Tigers. Within that run, Schoeneman had two big kills. One came after an incredible effort from Samantha Barton. Three times she laid out on the court to save it. Tigers led 16-11 and Washburn called a timeout.
Samantha Barton finished with 27 digs and three aces.
“(Samantha) makes a big difference defensively, she got to some balls that it was like ‘holy smokes’ and even the digs at the end, Molly Hohner had some huge digs, Ava Barton. We just really, really played some good team volleyball,” Schoeneman said.
Samantha Barton continued her good play with an ace and a another save on the court. This time, Ava Barton ended the set with a kill.
In the third set, the Tigers again had a 3-0 lead. It started with an Ava Barton ace, followed by two Aubrey Schoeneman kills. Torkelson continued to lead the offense, assisting on both kills.
But Washburn again went on a run. Klopatek put the Tigers up 11-9 with back-to-back aces. After that, Washburn went on a 9-1 run, forcing the Tigers to call a timeout. Washburn led 18-12.
Then Aubrey Schoeneman got hot. Torkelson assisted two of her kills for back-to-back points. Botes and Ava Barton had digs on the play.
Ava Barton finished with 22 digs, four kills and one ace.
For Washburn, Lily Wheeler presented one of the biggest threats to the Tigers. Wheeler put an emphasis on one of her kills for Washburn, who now led 20-17. Wheeler had her eyes on a fourth set.
After that point, Aubrey Schoeneman powered down two more kills. Washburn held onto a 20-19 lead, but the electricity in the gym was building.
Washburn committed three straight critical errors to give the Tigers a 24-22 lead. They finished it off right away. This time, Aubrey Schoeneman had the dig, Torkelson had another assist and Ava Barton finished it off for the 3-0 win. The gym was buzzing.
“We’re always there for each other and we just make it a community-wide thing,” coach Schoeneman said.
The Tigers participated in the Northwestern “Zosel” Invitational in Maple. The Tigers won their pool defeating Northwood 1-0 (25-8) and Luck 2-1 (25-23, 23-25, 15-10).
Then, the Tigers played a semifinal match thriller against Division 2 Amery, winning 2-1 (17-25, 25-23, 16-14). In the final set, the Tigers came back from down 11-14 to win.
In the championship match, the Tigers took on another Division 2 team in Ellsworth. Ellsworth won 2-0 (20-25, 16-25).
“It was an unbelievable day that kept us all on the edge of our seats with every match,” coach Robyn Schoeneman said. “I am in awe at the heart and determination that this group shows day after day.”
The Tigers next match comes Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Hurley Tournament at Ironwood High School starting at 9 a.m.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]