CUBA CITY – Darlington head coach Jennifer Schwartz knew her team would have to play nearly perfect to knock off #3-ranked Cuba City in Saturday’s regional championship match.
Fifth-seeded Darlington gave it their all, but fell short of perfection as the top-seeded Lady Cubans sailed to a three-set sweep over the Redbirds, 25-16, 25-20, 25-8, in a WIAA Division 3 regional final match played at CCHS on Oct. 20.
“You can’t make a lot of mistakes against Cuba City. They’re very talented and have put things together this season. You just can’t give away easy points against them and, unfortunately, we gave up a few too many easy points tonight,” declared Schwartz. “It’s been 17 years since we’ve been in this position. We came out fired up. We gave them a good fight. I’m proud of our effort.”
The Redbirds (18-7 overall) took an early lead in set one until a couple of long service runs put the Cubans (31-6) in control. After a block kill by Kathleen Mathias put the ‘Birds ahead 12-11 in set one, the Cubans answered back with a five-point run with Elizabeth Misky and a six-point run by Mykenzie Vaassen to build a 24-14 advantage. A kill by Megan Hartl secured the Cubans a 1-0 lead with a 25-16 win.
The Cubans held off a late Redbirds’ push to take set two by a score of 25-20, and then jumped out to a 5-0 lead in set three. An eight-point service run by Misky put the Cubans ahead 21-6, and they cruised to the sweep with a 25-8 decision.
Senior Kennedy Rankin recorded seven kills and three aces to lead the Redbirds in Saturday’s match. Senior Gabrielle Steiner added six kills and six assists, while junior Roxi Reuter tallied 13 assists and three aces. Junior Casey Glendenning also registered six kills for the Redbirds.
“It’s tough when you’re a senior and you want it so bad,” said Schwartz.
Playing in their final prep volleyball match for the Redbirds were seniors Gabrielle Steiner, Mariah Zeier, Kennedy Rankin, Allison Horne and Chelsie Golackson.
“Those seniors all worked hard in practice. They’ve given 110 percent to our program. They’ve led the groundwork for future teams to have success. I’m very proud of them. They’ve put in a lot of time and effort, and I couldn’t appreciate them any more,” replied Schwartz.
Darlington advanced to their first regional championship match since the 2000 season after they knocked off the #4-seeded Brodhead Cardinals with a thrilling 3-2 decision at BHS on Thursday, Oct. 19.
It was Darlington’s third playoff victory over the past two seasons and just their fourth tournament win since the regional final run in 2000.
After dropping set one by a score of 25-22, the ‘Birds bounced back with wins of 25-23 and 25-18 to garner a 2-1 lead. The Cardinals (22-17) fought back with a 25-17 decision in set four to force a decisive fifth set, and then opened up a late 13-9 lead to put Darlington’s back against the wall.
A missed serve and three straight hitting errors by the Cardinals brought the score back to even at 13 all, and a block kill by Steiner gave the Redbirds a 14-13 lead. With the match on the line, the Cardinals hit another attack out of bounds to hand the Redbirds the game, 15-13, and the match, 3-2.
“It was an awesome match. This is a group of kids who haven’t given up in any match this year. I was really proud of them for fighting their way to the regional championship match,” declared Schwartz.
Reuter handed out 28 assists to guide the offense, while Steiner finished with 20 assists and five kills.
Rankin tallied 15 kills and served up four aces. Mathias chipped in with six kills, and Golackson had three aces for the Redbirds.
Darlington kicked off the tournament by sweeping the #12-seeded Parkview Vikings, 25-16, 25-16, 25-12, in a regional quarterfinal match in their home finale.
Rankin had nine kills and seven aces in the victory. Golackson added five kills, while Reuter distributed 14 assists and Steiner tallied eight assists and four aces.
“It was nice to get a home match. It shows your hard work during the season pays off. It’s a reward for the team and the fans. We were happy to get a win in our final home match,” said Schwartz.
WIAA D3 REGIONAL FINAL
Darlington……… 16 20 8
Cuba City………. 25 25 25
Darlington Leaders– Kills: Kennedy Rankin 7, Gabrielle Steiner 6, Casey Glendenning 6. Aces: Rankin 3, Roxi Reiter 3. Assists: Reiter 13, Steiner 6.
At Cuba City on Saturday, Oct. 21
WIAA D3 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Darlington…… 22 25 25 17 15
Brodhead……. 25 23 18 25 13
Darlington Leaders– Kills: Kennedy Rankin 15, Kathleen Mathias 6, Gabrielle Steiner 5. Aces: Rankin 4, Chelsie Golackson 3. Assists: Roxi Reuter, 28, Steiner 20.
At Brodhead on Thursday, Oct. 19
WIAA D3 REGIONAL QUARTERFINAL
Parkview……….. 16 15 12
Darlington……… 25 25 25
Darlington Leaders– Kills: Kennedy Rankin 9, Chelsie Golackson 5. Aces: Rankin 7, Gabrielle Steiner 4. Assists: Roxi Reiter 14, Steiner 8.
At Darlington on Tuesday, Oct. 17