By Paul Lecker
WAUSAU – Trying to end a 15-year state tournament drought, the Marshfield volleyball team looked poised to get one step closer, but Chippewa Falls has never been to a state tournament and the Cardinals were not about to bow out gracefully.
Marshfield led 2-1 after three sets but couldn’t close out an explosive Chippewa Falls’ offense and the Cardinals were able to muster a tight 3-2 victory in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal match Thursday at Wausau West High School.
The No. 2 seed Chippewa Falls (37-2) won 22-25, 25-18, 19-25, 25-12, 15-9, to advance to a home sectional final matchup with No. 1 seed and five-time defending sectional champion River Falls in a D-1 sectional final at 7 p.m. Saturday. River Falls (25-1) pounded D.C. Everest 25-6, 25-11, 25-19, in the first match at West on Thursday.
Marshfield, which was co-champion of the Wisconsin Valley Conference, finishes the season 32-9.
“We didn’t have an answer for No. 6 (junior outside hitter Sami Perlberg),” Marshfield coach Dawn Sadowska said. “And we struggled too much in our serve receive in sets 4 and 5 making it difficult to get our offense going.”
It was Perlberg who took over in the fifth and deciding set. Marshfield pulled out to a 5-3 lead after two kills by Caitlyn Pernsteiner and another from Abby Ongna before the Cardinals ripped off four points in a row to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Marshfield closed to within 8-7 before Perlberg rotated up to the front row and setter Maddy Bauer fed her again and again. Perlberg had four kills in the final 7-2 rally that ended the match for Chippewa Falls. She finished with a team-high 18 kills and Sophie Robinson added 16 kills in the win.
Marshfield controlled most of the first set, taking a 10-5 lead on a kill by senior Casey Frankland, before the Cardinals rallied and eventually tied it at 19-19 on three-straight kills from Robinson.
The Tigers regrouped and were able to close out the first set win 25-22 on a service ace from Frankland.
Chippewa Falls used a 5-1 run to take a 17-11 lead in set No. 2 and went on to even the match with a 25-18 win.
The match continued to go back-and-forth as the two teams exchanged wins in the next two sets as well.
Chippewa Falls led 17-16 in the third set before Ongna had a kill to earn a sideout and tie the match. Ashlyn Barwick served five points in a row and Marshfield closed out a 25-19 win.
The Cardinals took control of the fourth set early, going on a 9-3 run to take an 11-5 lead, and finished off the victory by scoring 11 of the final 13 points, four on aces by Paige Steinmetz, to force the fifth set.
Ongna had 15 kills and 15 digs, Frankland finished with 11 kills and 19 digs, and Pernsteiner had 10 kills for Marshfield. Setter Reinya Balderson had 33 assists and Elise Uphoff had 24 digs as well for the Tigers.
Sadowska said the Tigers met a lot of goals this season, despite coming up short of their ultimate goal.
“I told the girls that I know this really hurts tonight, but they can’t let this define their season,” Sadowska said. “To go five (sets) in the sectional semifinal is still a great thing. We met a lot of goals this season, some girls did some really great things. There’s really not a lot to be hanging our heads about.”