Bonduel bows out to SMC in four-set thriller

Dustin Riese

Emotions ran high for both teams when No. 2 seed Bonduel faced off against No. 1 seed St. Mary Catholic in the first round of sectional volleyball action Oct. 26.

The Bears fell to the Zephyrs 3-1, but all four sets came down to the final moments with none of them being decided by more than five points.

After falling behind 2-0, Bonduel rallied to take the third set 25-20 and was leading 15-10 in the fourth set and on the verge of forcing a decisive fifth set. That is when the Zephyrs turned things on as they outscored the Bears 15-7 down the stretch to come from behind to close out that final set 25-22 and end the Bears season 3-1 by scores of 25-21, 25-21, 20-25 and 25-22.

“Both teams played a really great game,” Bears coach Abby Krull said. “We spent the night trading blows. SMC is a great team, and I felt we matched up pretty well. They would go on a run, I’d take a timeout, then we would get a little run, and they’d have to take one.”

In what seemed like a home game at times for the Bears, the atmosphere in Neenah is what every player dreams of for tournament volleyball as both sets of fans came ready to roll.

That helped the overall play of the match reach new heights as both sides traded blows early on, but it was the Zephyrs grabbing a 7-4 lead following a Lauren Fischer kill.

That was when Audrey Weier took over as the junior not only made life difficult from an offensive side but was relentless on defense as she finished the match with 18 kills, 12 digs and seven blocks.

“We showed up knowing this team was beatable, even though we lost to them twice in past tournaments,”Weier said. “Our team’s energy was up, and we were just pumped to be there and make it past regionals for the first time in a while. Mistakes always happen in volleyball tames, and I think we did a great job shaking it off and going to the next play. Didn’t end how we wanted, but I’m proud of what we accomplished this year.”

Weier was the one that not only got things rolling for the Bears in the first set, but she played a role in four straight points to help the Bears pull even 8-8 before the Juliana Jacobs block gave the Bears a 14-12 lead midway through that first set.

The remainder of the first set was a back and forth affair as both sides continued to exchange blows only to have the other match them point for point before a strong finish capped off by the Audrey Norville kill gave the Zephyrs a 1-0 set lead with the 25-21 win.

Eager to turn things around in the second set, the Bears came out on fire as Jacobs and Makayla Gray picked up several kills early on to give the Bears an early 7-3 lead. That lead would grow to 11-6 with Hailee Thompson coming away with several aces as the Bears were in complete control early.

Their lead wouldn’t last long as the Zephyrs haven’t played from behind a ton this season, but they know how to battle back as Norville and Eliana Brenn started to have their way with the Bears and went on an 8-1 run to put SMC back in front 14-12.

Things only continued to get worse from there with Fischer pushing the lead to 20-15 with a couple of aces before a thunderous rally of kills from Josie Anvelink and Weier pulled Bonduel within 20-19.That was as close as they would get as once again it was the play of Norville finishing things off to hand Bonduel their second set loss of the night 25-21.

Knowing set three was a do or die set for the Bears, they didn’t get off to the start they were hoping for as they trailed 3-0 early and then again 5-3. After battling back to tie things up 6-6, Anvelink took over with a series of blocks and kills to put the Bears in front 10-7 with another kill by Gray making the score 12-9.

Bonduel wouldn’t trail the rest of the way, but they did let the Zephyrs tie things up a few times. However, each time they found a way to battle back as the front line presence of Weier and Gray was proving to be to much in this one as Bonduel kept their season alive with a 25-20 set three win to make things 2-1.

“I felt our girls responded well after going down 2-0,” Krull said. “They battled hard to earn a fourth set and continued to battle no matter what the odds looked like for us.”

Already with one do or die set under their belt, the Bears were trying to do the unthinkable, which was not only to force a fifth set, but to perhaps find a way to win that fifth set.

Getting off to 6-3 lead certainly helped instill confidence as Jacobs set the tone with an early block that led to a couple of tip shots from Thompson for easy points. That was followed by blocks from Anvelink and another tip by Gray as the Bears had all the momentum early, 9-5.

Despite holding a 15-10 lead in the fourth set and seemingly in control the entire time, no lead is safe against this Zephyrs squad and the Bears were about to find that out first hand.

Whether it was the play up front from Fischer and Norville, or the serves from Samantha Weiss and Olivia Noel, Bonduel found their lead slipping away as their season was now in jeopardy of coming to an end.

The Zephyrs closed out the match on a 15-7 run to take set three 25-22 and end the Bears season.

“Overall, this season was a lot different for me as a player than my two other years playing varsity,” Weier said. “Starting the season, we had to move around players and really find out who we were as a team before we actually started playing our best. We went to many tournaments that really pushed us and forced us to see our weak spots. Volleyball is always really fun when it’s challenging and the rallies are really long, which happened to us a lot this year.”

With the loss, Bonduel ended their season with a 32-5 overall mark including a 7-0 conference mark as they claimed the 2023 Central Wisconsin East Division championship this year.

Bonduel was led by Weier and her 18 kills, while Anvelink and Jacobs added eight kills and five kills, respectively. Thompson set things up for the offense as she came away with 39 assists and 12 digs, while Jayla Reinke added 17 digs in the defeat.

“We may have fallen a little short of the ending we wanted, but our girls fought for every point and left everything on the floor,” Krull said. “I am so proud of the season we have had and am sad to see it come to an end.”

“I’m so grateful for my team this year, and I hope to accomplish more next year,” Weier added.