SOLDIERS GROVE — Despite a pool play loss to Viroqua, the Belmont volleyball team rallied to win the title at Saturday’s eight-team North Crawford Invitational.
The Braves (12–11–1) swept Six Rivers West rival 25–16, 25–19 in a semifinal game, then upended Black Hawk 25–20, 19–25, 15–9 in the championship match after going 2–1 in pool play.
Senior outside hitter Briana Ernst floored a match-high 12 kills in the championship match to led Belmont. Junior setter Nicole Knebel passed out 20 assists and served up a team-high four aces. Senior middle hitter Caitlyn Gilbertson added six kills and three blocks.
Viroqua finished third and didn’t even reach the finals after going a perfect 3–0 in pool play. The Blackhawks were upset by the Black Hawk Warriors in the semifinal round 2–1.
Belmont opened the day with a narrow 24–26, 26–24, 15–11 victory over Fennimore, then swept Wauzeka–Steuben 25–17, 25–15 before concluding pool play with a 25–13, 25–21 loss to Viroqua.
“I was very happy with the finish of the day and how we were able to fight back,” said Belmont head coach Matt Bockhop. “We started out flat, which has kind of been a trend for us, but I was able to lay into them a bit and get the competitive fire going. After our first game we got a break and during the break we received some difficult news. I was not sure how the team would react. We came out and had something to fight for and banded together as a team it was great to watch. Then we got mentally and emotionally exhausted. When we found out that we made it to bracket play we were able to use the emotion to our advantage and played great team volleyball.”
Ernst finished the day with a team-high 31 kills in five matches. Gilbertson added 28 kills and a team-best 13 blocks. Junior Kassandra Palzkill added 15 kills.
Knebel passed out 73 assists and led the team with 10 aces on Saturday. Senior libero Maddie Rand had 46 digs and seven aces.
The Braves entered Tuesday’s regular season final against visiting Shullsburg with a 5–6 record in the Six Rivers West. They will then open the WIAA Division 4 playoffs next Tuesday. First-round playoff pairings will be announced later this week.
“We went into the weekend confident in ourselves after the week we had and it showed,” added Bockhop. “The team played with a little swagger that we haven’t had for quite awhile. I think we are starting to peak together as a team and things are starting to fall into place. Going into the tournament we have a fire lit and we have a lot to play for. I think that we will be a scary team for anyone once we get into one-and-done play.”
Last Tuesday, the Braves notched their fifth win in conference play with a 25–16, 25–12, 23–25, 25–14 victory over Cassville.
Ernst floored a season-high 20 kills to lead the offense. Gilbertson added eight kills and five blocks and Rand made 20 digs to lead the defense.
Two nights later, Belmont pushed league-leading Benton to a fifth-set, but the Zephyrs clinched their first conference title since 1988 with a 25–14, 23–25, 25–11, 22–25, 15–9 victory over the gritty Braves.
When we lost down in Potosi two weeks ago, people were beat up and exhausted. I was not sure how we would respond after a tough loss to a team that we had beaten early this season,” said Bockhop. “However we came back and were able to handle Cassville on an emotional night at our benefit game, then we headed down to Benton and took the conference leaders to five on their home court.”
Belmont 3, Cassville 1
(from Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Belmont)
Cassville 16 12 25 14
Belmont 25 25 23 25
Belmont stat leaders
Kills: Briana Ernst 20, Caitlyn Gilbertson 8, Kassandra Palzkill 8. Blocks: Gilbertson 5, Elsie de Haan 2. Assists: Nicole Knebel 43. Aces: Knebel 8, Dakota Meylor-Seeber 4, Ernst 4. Digs: Maddie Rand 20, Trinity Rucker 7.
Benton 3, Belmont 2
(from Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Benton)
Belmont 14 25 11 25 9
Benton 25 23 25 22 15
Belmont stat leaders
Kills: Caitlyn Gilbertson 6, Briana Ernst 5, Elsie de Haan 5, Kassandra Palzkill 5. Blocks: Gilbertson 3, Elsie de Haan 2. Assists: Nicole Knebel 21. Aces: Maddie Rand 3, Dakota Meylor-Seeber 3. Digs: Maddie Rand 29, Trinity Rucker 16, Knebel 12.
North Crawford Invitational
(from Saturday, Oct. 8 @ Soldiers Grove)
Championship match: Belmont def. Black Hawk 25–20, 19–25, 15–9
Semifinals: Belmont def. Highland 25–16, 25–19; Black Hawk def. Viroqua 2–1.
Pool A: Highland 3–0, Back Hawk 2–1, North Crawford 1–2, Wonewoc–Center 0–3.
Pool B: Viroqua 3–0, Belmont 2–1, Fennimore 1–2, Wauzeka–Stuben 0–3.
Belmont pool play match scores
Belmont def. Fennimore 24–26, 26–24, 15–11
Belmont def. Wauzeka–Steuben 25–17, 25–15
Viroqua def. Belmont 25–13, 25–21
Belmont stat leaders
Kills: Briana Ernst 31, Caitlyn Gilbertson 28, Kassanda Palzkill 15, Sadie Willborn 9. Blocks: Gilbertson 13. Assists: Nicole Knebel 73. Aces: Knebel 10, Maddie Rand 7, Dakota Meylor-Seeber 5. Digs: Rand 46, Knebel 29, Meylor-Seeber 21, Trinity Rucker 20.