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#7 Benton sweeps Belmont in regional opener
Bel VB Knebel set 2
BELMONT SETTER Nicole Knebel (#5), a junior who recorded her 1,000th career assists in the final match of the regular season, attempts to set up teammate Briana Ernst (right) while Sadie Willborn (#9) looks on.

    BENTON — Belmont knew it had a tall task in front of them when they headed to Benton on Tuesday night to open the WIAA volleyball tournament against the red-hot #7-ranked Lady Zephyrs, but coach Matt Bockhop’s Braves weren’t going to go down without a fight.
    Belmont fought tooth-and-nail throughout the first set and early in the second set; however, once the Zephyrs got on a roll, they were tough to stop as the rolled to a three-set sweep, 25-18, 25-12, 25-9, over the Lady Braves in a WIAA Division 4 regional quarterfinal match on Oct. 17.
    “It was definitely a tough draw heading down to Benton. They are a very good team with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. The team came out of the gate tough and it was great to see the fire. I was happy with the defense we were playing and thought that was what was keeping us alive,” Bockhop said. “As the game went on their hitters started to put even more pressure on us. The offense was looking good, they were just scrappy and got a few balls up that we were used to see hitting the floor.”
    After falling 25-18 to the Six Rivers West co-champs in set one, Belmont (7-19-1 overall) battled to a 9-9 tie with the Zephyrs in set two, The hosts closed the set on a 16-3 run to earn a 25-12 decision and a 2-0 lead, and then rode that momentum into the third set where they downed the Braves, 25-9, for the sweep.
    Senior middle hitter Briana Ernst led the Braves with seven kills, nine digs and an ace, while fellow senior middle hitter Kassandra Palzkill chipped in with six kills.
    Junior setter Nicole Knebel, who went over the 1,000 assists mark for her career in the Braves’ match against Potosi on Oct. 12, tacked on another 16 assists to her total along with seven digs. Junior Sadie Willborn added an ace in the match.
    “I thought the team was finally getting to the point here at the end of the season where it looked like we were playing our best ball. People were starting to get healthier and we were starting to get more comfortable in the rotations. We were a team that needed our season to be about three weeks longer and I think that we would have continued to look even better,” noted Bockhop.
    Playing in their final prep match for the Braves were seniors Emma Buss, Taylor Foecking, Julia Mau, Briana Ernst, Kassandra Palzkill and Alyssa Cutler.
    “It is tough to see the seniors go. They are a group that I have had for two years and it was great to see the growth and strides they were able to make,” stated Bockhop. “They were all able to grow in their skills on the court, and it was great. It will be tough to fill those roles on the team.”
Belmont……….. 18     12       9
Benton………… 25     25     25
Belmont Stat Leaders– Kills: Briana Ernst 7, Kassandra Palzkill 6. Assists: Nicole Knebel 16. Aces: Ernst 1, Sadie Willborn 1. Digs: Ernst 9, Knebel 7.
At Benton on Tuesday, Oct. 17