FVL sweeps Panthers

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Falls working to regain momentum

Greg Bates Times Herald Correspondent

It could have been a match-changing set for the Oconto Falls volleyball team.

The Panthers had set point twice in the second against Fox Valley Lutheran, but the Foxes used their third set point to pull out a 29-27 victory. That put Fox Valley Lutheran up 2-0, and the visitors cruised in the third set to pull off a sweep (25-11, 29-27, 25-18) in North Eastern Conference play on Thursday.

The second set loss was deflating for Oconto Falls.

“Unfortunately, we made some unforced mistakes,” Oconto Falls coach Rochell Otto said. “Down at that point, you can’t be missing key serves. Not that you want to beat that up, but that’s the facts of life. You’re tied 25-25 or 26, and you’ve got to put the ball in play and play some defense.”

With the second set tied at 24, Samantha Coron registered an ace for the Panthers. A service error knotted it up again, and Stephanie Peitersen scored on a tip to give Oconto Falls another shot to end the set. Fox Valley Lutheran scored back-to-back points before Sarah Sprout tallied a point on a tip to make it 27-27. The Foxes responded with a kill and a tip by Jenna Charron to end it.

“I think any time you go above 25 (points) and back and forth, back and forth and then you lose that set, it takes your momentum away,” Fox Valley Lutheran coach Wendy Bixby said. “That was really to our advantage, and I’m really proud of our kids for hanging in there. It was back and forth for a long time, really the whole game.”

Even though Oconto Falls lost the second set, Otto is hoping the match taught her young players how to attack things differently if presented with that situation in the future.

“Some of my leaders were a little bit down, and it’s like, you can’t, you’ve got to bounce back,” Otto said. “Get excited. They weren’t even getting excited over their own kills. You’ve just got to do that, because that’s how you’re going to swing the momentum back our way. That’s all mental and comes from the heart.”

Oconto Falls fell behind 6-1 in the opening set and couldn’t get any closer than five points the rest of the way. The third set was much of the same. Oconto Falls trailed 7-3 right out of the gate. The Panthers made a late run, scoring three straight points, but dropped the set.

Oconto Falls (6-5-1, 0-1 North Eastern Conference) and Fox Valley Lutheran (6-5, 1-0 NEC) have some familiarity with each other this season. The teams tangled at the Hilbert Tournament where the Foxes won 2-1 Aug. 22.

Otto has watched her team progress in the nine days since the tournament.

“We did some good things at the Hilbert Tournament,” Otto said. “We gelled, and we were having fun. We were playing as a team.”

“After that second game, I give them credit for coming back, we just got it taken to us the first game. That’s what’s great about volleyball, you can come back and have the opportunity to win that second game. Hopefully, we’ll learn from that and get better.”

Otto saw improvement in the team’s blocking against Fox Valley Lutheran.

“We got our hands on things tonight that we haven’t been doing — Natalie Brauer and Olivia Steffens,” Otto said. “Those are good things that are going to make us get better, and hopefully in the future, make us come out on top.”

Otto praised the play of Coron, who is the main setter on the junior varsity team. The coach was looking at putting the sophomore into the libero role at the varsity level.

“She’s just always around the ball and her free-ball passes,” Otto said. “I made my decision. I’ve been tinkering back and forth because I wanted to get her some setting experience at the JV level. But it’s a game changer, it makes a big difference. I decided I’m going to take her.”

Coron finished the night with a team-high 16 digs.

Sprout led the way in kills with 13. Peitersen added seven kills, and Brauer had five. Emma Huberty had 26 assists and 11 digs.

“Emma Huberty, night and day from this year to last year,” Otto said. “But she’s still got to fine-tune.”

Charron finished with a match-high 17 kills for Fox Valley Lutheran.

Fox Valley Lutheran had 10 aces on the night, while Oconto Falls tallied three.