O-F spikers go up against state's best at state tourney
By Sean Scallon
WAUSAU - Maybe the music had something to do with it.
The PA in the Wausau West High School fieldhouse played the AC/DC song "Thunderstruck", a usual staple at Osseo-Fairchild High School sporting events, and the Thunders' fans started clapping a cheering despite their team down 2-0 to top-ranked and defending state champion Howards Grove in the semifinals of the WIAA Division 3 State Volleyball Tournament last week Saturday, Nov. 7.
The energy from the crowd energized the Thunder, especially when they tied the score in Game 3 at 5-5 on a kill from outside hitter Brooke McCune, the closest they had been to the Tigers all match. They only trailed by margins of 8-7 and 11-9, and 16-13 after back-to-back block kills from senior middle blocker Madison Hugdahl.
"That third set was just amazing," Hugdahl said. "We played with the energy we had in sectionals and we were really pumped up. I'm so proud of the team that we just stuck with it despite being down and played really hard. That what made this an amazing team to be a part of."
Alas, Howard Grove is who they are for a reason and the Tigers, 21-1 overall, eventually took control again, outscoring the Thunder to win the game 25-16 and the match 3-0. Game 1 and 2 scores were 25-11 and 25-13.
Howards Grove features arguably the state's best high school player in sophomore outside hitter Saige Damrow. She finished with six kills and seven digs and three aces, all coming at the start of Game 3 to put HG up 5-0.
But even without Damrow the Tigers are still very, very good led in kills by senior 6-1 setter Josie Halbleib, who finished with 11 to go with six assists. Senior middle blocker Maddy Near had five of the team's 11 aces to go with nine kills. Junior outside hitter Karissa Kaminski had nine kills as well. Junior setter Emma Baierl had 16 assists. Howards Grow would go on to win the state championship for a second straight season by a 3-1 score over Waterloo.
"They're have a great team and great players," OFHS head coach Sharon Steinke said. "Their team balance is just exceptional."
McCune finished with 10 kills to lead O-F while fellow junior outside hitter Mariah Steinke had seven. Junior setter Rachel Moe had seven assists while junior right hitter Dezaray Eiseberner had six assists. McCune and junior libero Zoey Lafky both had seven digs.
Hugdahl was the lone senior on the 2020 Thunder squad which finished 8-7 overal. While her contributions to the first-ever OFHS team to play in the state volleyball tournament will be missed, Steinke says the returning players put the Thunder in a great position to get back next season.
"I was excited for our players for the opportunity to be in this tournament they worked hard for and earned despite everything we've been through this season from the pandemic to starting off 1-5," Steinke said. "It was a lot of fun to watch them play these past few weeks and hopefully we can carry it over to next season to get back."