Kimberly ends Pulaski’s season in straight sets

Pulaski coach guides team one last time before retirement
Dustin Riese

Playoffs can be an exciting time for some and the worst feeling in the world for others. On one hand, you will have one team having an opportunity to continue their season for at least one more game. On the other hand, one team will see their season come to an end and all of the hard work that went into getting them this far.

That is what Pulaski and Kimberly were facing Oct. 19 as the 10th-seeded Red Raiders hit the road to face the No. 7 seed Papermakers in regional semifinal volleyball action.

It was the Papermakers who wanted it more on this night as they managed to take the match in straight sets (25-13, 25-8, 25-13) and end the Red Raiders season 3-0 in the process.

“Kimberly is a talented team, and they proved that tonight,” coach Bethani Thibodeau said. “We kept our focus and took advantage when we could. Unfortunately, it did not end the way we wanted, but the girls played hard and for that I am thankful. Our seniors did a wonderful job all season long.”

“We as a team knew what was on the line,” senior Emma Quinnell added. “Sure, there were things that we could have done better throughout the match, but we never gave up and battled all the way until the end.”

Throughout the early stages of the first set, this appeared to be a match between two evenly matched teams as neither team had the upper hand. That was until Ava Vanvonderen and her 20 kills started to take over as her play on the front line gave Pulaski fits for most of the match. Throw in some perfectly placed serves by Brie Lamers, and Kimberly took what was a close game and flipped it on its head to grab the commanding 13-6 lead.

Credit the Red Raiders for doing their best to weather the storm as sophomore middle blocker Samantha Weise came through with some kills to put an end to the run. That was followed by a very lengthy volley, and one that was won by Pulaski after an unforced Kimberly error as the Red Raiders refused to go down quietly.

After sophomore Addison Krueger delivered another kill to pull Pulaski within 14-10, it was the Papermakers who started to pull away as they ripped off a 10-1 run to seize control 24-12. Weise did her part to try and keep things alive late, but the Papermakers were too much for Pulaski in that first set as Kimberly grabbed the 1-0 lead, 25-13.

Knowing there was still plenty of time left to mount a comeback, the Red Raiders quickly saw any hope of that dwindling as Kimberly came out on a mission to begin the second set. Led by Ava Reis from the service line and the play of Vanvonderen and Kendyll Brochtrup up front, the Papermakers opened up a 9-0 lead before Pulaski earned their first point. Eventually that lead grew to 15-2 as Pulaski had no answers for the Papermakers during this second set.

It took nearly the entire second set for Pulaski to start settling in as the tip shot from Isabella Valdes seemed to awaken Pulaski a little as they scored five of the next eight points. The problem was the deficit they were already facing at that point, as Kimberly took care of business 25-8 to take a 2-0 match lead.

With only one more loss standing in their way of the season coming to an end, Pulaski was faced with an uphill battle but knew they had the ability to at least keep things going. It did appear that way early on with Quinnell dominating at the net to record several kills as Pulaski was keeping things close early, 6-6. Grace Fuetz was starting to get more involved at this point also as her team leading 10 digs helped save countless points and gave Pulaski a chance to set things up offensively.

Quinnell was determined to keep Pulaski’s season alive throughout that third set.

“Walking into Kimberly I knew this could be my last time playing volleyball,” she said. “I gave it everything I had out there, especially during the final set. I kept pushing myself as hard as I could, and I didn’t want to regret not giving it my all if this was to be our last game together.”

Even after Vanvonderen started to pick up more kills to give Kimberly the lead right back, Alexia Thibodeau and Krueger managed to grab a pair of kills of their own as the Red Raiders were finally starting to settle in and trailed 11-8. Thibodeau led the way for Pulaski with seven kills while also adding three digs. It was at this point when the Papermakers started to pull away once again as the play of Vanvonderen was just too much as she not only came away with six additional kills in that third set but also several huge blocks as Kimberly went on an 8-1 run to stretch the lead to 19-9.

Quinnell put an end to that run with a block that was followed by a kill from the freshman Jazlyn Kozlowski to keep Pulaski within striking distance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for the Red Raiders as Kimberly recovered to close out the match on a 4-0 run to pick up the 25-13 set three win and capped off the straight set victory to advance to the regional final.

“Mia Kraft went out early with a season-ending injury that we appreciate all the energy she brought from the sidelines,” Bethani Thibodeau said. “Lia Richgels is one of the best teammates I have ever coached as she gives 100% of herself to her team and is the most supportive person to each and every one of her teammates. Emma Quinnell is a quiet leader for us with impactful plays on the court. Alexia Thibodeau is a four-year starter, two-year captain and does it all for us as by leading in serve receive, defense, offense, and is a constant mentor on the court for her team.

“Last night was bittersweet as we wish our seniors the best of luck in their future endeavors, and it was the end of my coaching career as I have announced my retirement after 25 years of dedication to a sport I love.”

Quinnell wants to remember all the good times that came from the past four years.

“After losing that final set, I couldn’t believe how much love and support there was around me,” she said. “All of my teammates and coaches were giving all of the seniors hugs and just wiping away our tears. I want to thank all of my coaches, current teammates and past teammates for these past four years and helping me create friendships and lessons that will last a lifetime.”

Pulaski finished the season with a 12-27 overall record and will now focus on 2024 with a ton of experience and talent returning from what was a primarily young team this year.