UW-River Falls is moving on to the semifinals of the WIAC Women's Volleyball Championship (presented by Culver's) for the first time in five years following a 3-1 win over UW-Oshkosh during the first round Tuesday (Nov. 5) in Kolf Sports Center. The Falcons defeated the Titans in set scores of 24-26, 25-23, 25-17, 25-17.
UW-River Falls (22-12), seeded fifth in the six-team league tournament, advances to play at top-seeded UW-Whitewater on Thursday (Nov. 7). The Falcons, who snapped a nine-match losing streak to the Titans, avenged a 3-0 loss at UW-Oshkosh on Oct. 5.
Fourth-seeded UW-Oshkosh (21-10) capped its 19th 20+ win season in the past 21 years with its record-tying 32nd consecutive appearance at the WIAC Championship.
Thursday's other league postseason semifinal contest features second-seeded UW-Eau Claire hosting third-seeded UW-Stevens Point (24-8). UW-Stevens Point reached the semifinals by virtue of its 3-0 home win over sixth-seeded UW-La Crosse on Tuesday.
UW-River Falls registered 101 digs against UW-Oshkosh, which was held to a season-low .044 hitting percentage. The Falcons, who entered the night leading the conference with a .216 hitting percentage and 18.18 digs per set, concluded the match with advantages of 55-40 in kills, .128 to .044 in hitting percentage, 101-77 in digs and 5-3 in aces. The Titans, the conference leader at 2.05 blocks per set heading into Tuesday, owned a 15-7 edge in blocks.
The Falcons, making their first trip to the WIAC Championship since 2014, did not trail in the match after claiming a 5-4 lead in the third set.
Karli Nielsen, the WIAC leader with a .290 hitting percentage heading into Tuesday, led all players with 14 kills on .290 hitting for UW-River Falls, which also received 12 kills apiece from Katie Koerper and Dakota Poitra. Poitra added a team-leading 24 digs.
UW-River Falls' Hailey Huseth amassed 46 assists and 18 digs.
Samantha Jaeke paced the Titans in kills for the 21st time this season, registering 15 points on 13 kills against the Falcons. Jaeke ends her career with 1,076 kills.
Rachel Gardner capped her four-year Titan career with 2,098 digs after recording a team-high 32 Tuesday.
UW-Oshkosh team leaders also included Emma Kiekhofer with 22 assists, Shelby Coron with seven blocks and Kate Nottoli with two aces. Rebecca Doughty added 12 assists and 10 digs for her fifth double-double of the season and 11th career.
UW-Oshkosh jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the first set following a UW-River Falls attack error, but the Falcons rallied to claim a 17-16 advantage after a Titan attack error during an opening frame in which neither team hit above .050. The Titans scored three points in a row to reclaim a 21-18 lead before UW-River Falls knotted the score at 24. A double-block by Coron and Nottoli provided UW-Oshkosh its third set-point at 25-24, and Jaeke recorded a kill for the Titans on the ensuing point.
The second set was tied for the 10th and final time at 23 after UW-Oshkosh overcame a 22-18 deficit. Poitra's kill gave the Falcons a 24-23 lead before Sarah Langlois culminated the set with an ace.
UW-River Falls went on to outhit the Titans, .222 to .059 over the final two sets to complete the comeback win.
UW-Oshkosh and UW-River Falls met for just the ninth occasion at the WIAC Championship. Despite the setback Tuesday, UW-Oshkosh maintains a 5-4 edge in the series during the league postseason. The Falcons' win was their first over the Titans in league postseason play since a 3-1 victory during the 2003 semifinals. UW-Oshkosh had won the previous two matchups with UW-River Falls by 3-2 scores in the 2014 third-place match and the 2012 first round.
Photo courtesy of C. Vara