APPLETON — Fox Valley Lutheran girls’ volleyball coach Wendy Bixby has a “less is more” philosophy when it comes to talking to her players in critical moments.
Bixby’s team rose to the challenge after facing an early deficit to upend a stubborn Freedom squad 3-2 in a nerve-wracking WIAA Division 2 regional quarterfinal at Fox Valley Lutheran on Tuesday.
FVL defeated Freedom 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 25-6 and 18-16. The Foxes travel to Little Chute on Thursday for a regional semifinal against the Mustangs.
Freedom, which had struggled to pull out wins during the regular season, was swept by FVL last Thursday but took a 2-1 lead heading into the fourth set Tuesday.
Fox Valley Lutheran rode a momentum surge that culminated with 14-0 run to close out the fourth set 25-6, setting up Bixby’s conference with her players heading into the pivotal fifth set.
“In those situations, I don’t say a ton because then you get in your kids’ heads,” Bixby said. “They knew what to do and they knew what the game plan was.”
That’s not to say the third-seeded Foxes didn’t make their share of errors against a Freedom team smelling upset.
Freedom, a No. 6 seed, took an 11-8 lead in the fifth set on a kill from Morgan Witt, but the Foxes answered with a 4-0 run that featured two kills from Megan Mellberg.
The teams traded serving errors and missed kill opportunities, then a net error by FVL allowed Freedom to tie the set at 16-16.
But a kill from Paige Knutzen followed by the game-winner from Jenna Bruss allowed the Foxes to escape with the win as the FVL student section stormed the court.
“We made mistakes,” Bixby said. “We got called for a lift and got called for being in the net, but I’m so proud of the kids. On the court, they were looking at each other and saying, ‘That’s fine, we got it.’ They took on the calm demeanor that we’ve been working on all season that when stuff goes wrong — and it’s going to — you have to battle through it.
“I told them in the huddle at the end that I was so proud of them. All the lumps we took all season and the ups and downs and when we didn’t come back from those adversities, they did tonight and it mattered tonight.”
Amber Schroeder had 35 digs, 10 kills and four aces for FVL, which also got 44 digs from Sailor Brukardt.
“This was definitely an awesome game,” Schroeder said. “I’m a senior here and I definitely want our season to keep going. I don’t want to go home.”
Nicole Klitzke had 17 digs for Freedom, which also got six kills apiece from Witt, Mercedes Hennes and Jordan Mashlan.
Irish coach Ellen Vanden Berg said her team came out and played much better than it had in the loss to FVL last week.
“After that game on Thursday, they wanted to come back and play FVL their hardest and they did,” Vanden Berg said. “They didn’t want to fall and hit the ground. They played hard until the very end of the game. I was really proud of them.”
Fox Valley Lutheran beat Freedom 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 25-6, 18-16. Freedom leaders: Jordan Mashlan 6 kills, 11 digs; Morgan Witt 6 kills; Mercedes Hennes 6 kills; Ally VanEperen 5 kills; Raina Gerritts 17 assists; Bayly Grosskopf 9 assists; Makenna Haase 3 solo blocks, 2 block assists; Nicole Klitzke 17 digs. Fox Valley Lutheran leaders: Amber Schroeder 4 aces, 10 kills, 35 digs; Whitney Henn 3 aces, 2 kills, 14 digs, 17 assists; Megan Mellberg 5 kills, 3 block assists, 3 digs, 3 assists; Sam Birling 4 aces, 6 digs, 15 assists; Sailor Brukardt 44 digs; Alexis Uitenbroek 8 kills, 2 block assists, 2 digs; Emma Kamerer 2 aces, 7 kills, 5 block assists, 8 digs; Alyssa Charron 7 kills, 7 block assists, 2 digs.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter@PCRicardo
Cross country spotlighted on Varsity Roundtable
Cross country runners Luke Sampson of Little Chute and Carisa Weyenberg of Kimberly will be our guests today at 7 p.m. on Varsity Roundtable, our weekly prep sports program. Join host Ricardo Arguello for a fun and fast-paced conversation, and don’t miss the shout-out segment of every show. Watch live and chat in real-time on postcrescent.com.