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The Stratford volleyball team celebrates after closing out a 3-1 win over Auburndale in a WIAA Division 3 regional final Saturday night at Stratford High School. (Photo by Paul Lecker/For Zaleski Sports))

By Paul Lecker For Zaleski Sports

STRATFORD – The Stratford volleyball team found itself in a familiar spot on Saturday.

Just like it did during Thursday’s regional semifinal against Edgar, the Tigers lost the opening set and didn’t look good doing it.

Stratford regrouped, dominated the second set, and won the next two as well to defeat rival Auburndale 3-1 in a WIAA Division 3 girls volleyball regional final on Saturday night at Stratford High School.

The second-seeded Tigers won the match 11-25, 25-12, 25-21, 25-13, to advance to the Division 3 sectional semifinals next Thursday, Oct. 31, at No. 1 seed Fall Creek. Stratford is searching for its third-straight trip to the state tournament.

“Our experience we have playing them in the past, we used that to help us into the next game,” Stratford coach Brooke Kafka said. “Also, we just had the same experience against Edgar on Thursday. Ultimately, it’s not our physical game but our mental side of the game. Playoffs is a totally different ball game, so we just had to come in with stronger heads in that second set.”

Auburndale set Stratford back on its heels early, using a 15-1 run to go up 20-5 in the first set.

Setter Georgi Schmutzer was nearly perfect, setting up hitters Isabelle Hilber, Natalie Aue and Kendra Zieher time and again.

Two aces by Madison Krings, and two kills each by Hilber and Aue put Auburndale in command.

Maggie Willfahrt served out the final three points to finish off the 25-11 win in the opening set for the Apaches.

Stratford pulled away in the second set with a 10-2 run to take a 17-9 lead. Lauryn Nagel had four of her nine kills in the set as the Tigers ran away with a 25-12 win, ending on kills by Breanna Ackley, Kamryn Schueller and Nagel.

“After that first set, we had to get back to that team mentality and we can’t just rely on one or two players to make that happen,” Kafka said. “We quickly hashed out what that was going to look like as a team and brought it into that second set.”

The third set was tight throughout, with neither team scoring more than four points in a row until a late Stratford surge.

Auburndale led 19-15 after an ace by Kaitlyn Kundinger. Stratford earned a sideout and ripped off seven points in a row to take a 22-19 lead.

Mikayla Guldan had two kills and Ashley O’Neil had two-straight block kills to cap off the run.

After Auburndale closed to within a point on an ace by Krings, Ackley had a tip kill and Stratford finished off a 25-21 win.

The Tigers controlled the fourth set, pulling out to a 12-3 lead on a block kill by O’Neil and an ace by Nagel.

Guldan had a pair of kills and a service ace as Stratford wrapped up the match with a 25-13 win.

“This is a totally new team that we’ve had this year and I think that they’re living up to some expectations really well,” Kafka said. “Every day there is something to work on and they take it in stride, and we’re doing good things now.”

Schmutzer had 30 assists, Aue finished with nine kills, Hilber had eight kills, and Brionna Haasl had 16 digs for Auburndale.

Guldan added eight kills and Abby Oertel had 14 assists for Stratford.

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