One night after Stanton had to wait nearly two hours to play its Class C2-4 subdistrict match, the top-seed Mustangs made quick work of No. 2-seed Wisner-Pilger.
And Tuesday’s 25-14, 25-23, 25-13 win at the Norfolk Catholic Activities Center looked more like what coach Tracy Kuester has come to expect out of her team.
“That was more like Mustang volleyball,” she said.
The focus now turns to the district final. Stanton automatically qualified for the round of 16 as a result of Tuesday’s win, while Wisner-Pilger could advance by receiving one of the four wildcard bids.
For Stanton, the focus was never on a wildcard, although it was virtually locked up because the team entered the night fourth statewide in the NSAA points standings for Class C2.
“We don’t talk about power points. We don’t talk about wildcard,” junior Bree Burtwistle said. “It’s winning it out, the entire thing.”
Wisner-Pilger coach Jean Groth said that, regardless of what happens regarding the wildcard, the Gators have shown improvement throughout the year, especially since a 25-12, 25-10 loss to the Mustangs on Sept. 19.
“Right now, we’re playing better volleyball than we were in mid-September, and we’re playing better volleyball than we were in mid-October during the conference tournament,” she said. “The girls have worked hard.”
Stanton’s attack was fueled from the corners, repeatedly making the Wisner-Pilger blockers move laterally throughout the match.
The usual suspects – Burtwistle and fellow junior Jessie Brandl – took advantage. They paced the attack with 11 kills each, and Burtwistle added 11 assists.
“We’re a better team when the sets are pin-to-pin,” Kuester said. “They have a lot of options. They can cut it, they can use the block, and they can use the off-speed. They have that court sense of awareness, there’s no doubt.”
However, some of the biggest momentum swings came at the service line, where the Mustangs finished with seven aces. Elizabeth Christensen led with four, while Brandl added a pair.
“All season long, it’s about serving,” Kuester said. “When we can serve aggressively and get teams out-of-system, that is one of our strengths. And when we struggle with that, we play close matches. That’s what happens.”
The most drama came in game two, when the Gators rallied from a 10-6 deficit to tie it at 14, and the teams matched points most of the rest of the way.
Wisner-Pilger trailed 19-17, but responded with four of the next five points, including an Ashton Meyer kill, to lead 21-20. The other three points were all Stanton errors.
A hit by Burtwistle fell for a kill, then Christensen served her fourth ace of the match before Brandl’s tip on an overpass gave the Mustangs a 23-21 lead. Jordan Wegner answered with a Wisner-Pilger kill, but Allie Spence responded with one for Stanton to put the Mustangs at set point. Wegner held them off once with a kill, but another one from Brandl ended it.
In the final set, the Mustangs turned a 9-8 edge into a 24-12 advantage, including stretches of six-straight and five-straight points. Hannah Heppner had two solo blocks in the first run, while Burtwistle and Brandl each had a kill in the second.
Stanton was able to attack Wisner-Pilger from the service line in the opener. Brandl served back-to-back aces to break an early tie, helping turn a 6-3 deficit into an 11-7 lead. Later, three-straight aces by Christensen stretched the lead to 17-11, as Stanton went on to lead 20-12. Burtwistle slammed back-to-back kills down the stretch to finish it.