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Hillmen deliver first blow
Stecklein leads the way in win over SWC rival River Valley
pla vb celebrate
Seniors Morgan Stecklein (far left), Claire Tashner (4) and Lexi Budden (12) celebrate the final point of Plattevilles 2515, 2520, 2225, 2518 victory over River Valley last Tuesday night.

      PLATTEVILLE — Platteville’s first stated goal this year under head coach Lindsay Neal was to win the outright Southwest Wisconsin Conference title.

     Neal’s Hillmen took the first step toward achieving that goal by defeating their chief SWC rival River Valley (ranked 7th in D2) last Tuesday night 25–15, 25–20, 22–25, 25–18.

     “It was an exciting win,” said Neal. “We put ourselves in a good position to claim the outright conference title, but we know they will be gunning for us next time so we are going to have to work even harder.”

     A year ago the Hillmen split the regular season series with the Blackhawks and shared the SWC crown. Two years ago, River Valley swept the regular season series with Platteville to win the outright title.

     Tuesday night, seniors Morgan Stecklein and Maddie Carroll played sensational matches to lead the fourth ranked Hillmen (21–4, 5–0 SWC) to the top of this year’s SWC standings by handing seventh-ranked River Valley (21–4, 4–1) its first SWC loss of the season.

     Stecklein posted a near triple–double of 17 kills, 10 aces and nine digs in the victory and was equally impressive from the service line as she was at the net.

     Carroll complimented Stecklein’s big night with a career-high 14 kills of her own on an array of smashes through the Valley defense and a handful of well-placed tips. She had just one hitting error in the match.

     “I think both Morgan and Maddie stepped up to the challenge,” said Neal. “We like to spread our offense all across the front row, but those two were able to find the holes and gaps when we needed it most.”

     Stecklein served up six aces in the opening set as Platteville dominated the baffled Blackhawks 25–10 to take a 1–0 lead.

     The athletic, hard-hitting senior went to work at the net in game two, pounding down eight kills, and Carroll added five as the Hillmen grabbed a 2–0 lead with a 25–20 win.

     Backed into an 0–2 hole, River Valley turned to their own 6-foot senior, Alyssa Mueller.

     The lanky Mueller slammed seven kills and had two blocks from her middle hitter position to control game three as Valley pulled within 2–1 with a narrow 25–22 win.

     Stecklein and the Hillmen defense rose to the challenge. The senior co-captain posted five kills and three aces and her teammates made three blocks in the fourth game as Platteville closed out the match with a convincing 25–18 victory.

     Senior setter Jenna Phillips added 25 assists, five digs and four aces in the match for the Hillmen. Classmate Rachel Emendorfer passed out 22 assists for the winners and senior Claire Tashner had eight kills, eight digs and three blocks.

     Stecklein again had the hot hand Thursday night with a season-high 18 kills in 27 attempts with just three errors to lead Platteville to a 25–14, 25–15, 25–11 sweep of host Richland Center.

     Senior Marissa Marino added eight kills and seven digs. Phillips finished with 20 assists and three aces, while Emendorfer passed out 17 assists.

     Platteville closed out a big Homecoming week in style Saturday by going 6–0 to win the 14-team Middleton Cardinal Invitational.

     The Hillmen survived an early-morning scare holding off West Allis Hale 25–23, 20–25, 15–10 in Saturday’s 8 a.m. match before sweeping Oregon, 25–13, 25–19, and Mount Horeb, 25–17, 25–7 to win Pool A.

     The Hillmen then swept Madison Edgewood 25–20, 25–19 in the quarterfinals of the championship bracket and beat the host Cardinals 25–16, 26–28, 15–6 in the semifinals to reach the championship.

     Platteville split the first two games of the title match with Waunakee, but recovered to dominate the decisive third set to win the tournament, 25–19, 17–25, 15–4.

     “I think the key to our success on Saturday was that we played up to our potential,” said Neal. “We played level all day and didn’t go down to other team’s level of play. We were able to shut down opposing team’s offensive attacks and frustrating many defenses with our hitting and serves.” 

     Stecklein posted a team-best 48 kills, 44 digs and a 13 aces in six matches Saturday to lead the Hillmen. She had eight kills and six aces in the championship match.

     Tashner had a superb all-around performance from her right-side hitter position. She led the team with 45 digs and 18 aces, including eight in the quarterfinal win over Edgewood. She also posted 17 kills in six matches.

     “Our serving was the best its been all year on Saturday and Claire really found a rhythm and had very few errors.”

     Emendorfer passed out a team-high 45 assists and also had 29 digs and five aces. Phillips posted 43 assists, 29 digs and seven aces. Senior middle hitter Faye Bailie posted 26 kills and a team-high nine blocks. Caroll finished with 21 kills, and Marino added 17 kills and 28 digs.

     The fourth-ranked Hillmen (22–4, 6–0) swept Prairie du Chien Tuesday night, 25–14, 25–11, 25–18 to begin the second round of conference play. They will now have a week off before traveling to Dodgeville on Tuesday.