West Branch sophomore Abbey Fryauf blocks against Tipton on Oct. 6. Photo by Darren Miller. By Ryan Murken Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Claire Bridges wasn’t sure if West Branch was at its best on Monday night in its Region 7 quarterfinal against rival Regina.
Bridges was quick to point out if the Bears didn’t play their best Monday, they certainly didn’t miss it by much.
West Branch (20-15) rallied from an opening set loss to earn a 15-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-23 win over River Valley Conference foe Regina (22-14) in front of a raucous crowd at West Branch.
“I don’t know if that’s our best,” Bridges said. “It has to be close though.”
The win was the second straight for West Branch over Regina after the Regals won the first two meetings between the teams this season.
Abby Knoop had a match-high 21 kills and Bridges added eight as West Branch advanced to take on RVC foe Wilton (32-5) on Thursday at Calamus-Wheatland in the Region 7 semifinals.
“This is our last home game we knew everything was on the line tonight,” Knoop said. “We just want to go as far as we can and I’m so proud of every one.”
While Bridges wasn’t sure if Monday was the best performance of the season for the West Branch, Regina head coach Kara Kimm had no doubt.
Regina got 19 kills from Sarah Lehman but it wasn’t enough as the Regals fell to West Branch in the regional quarterfinals for the second straight season.
Regina senior Olivia Wolfe hits against Tipton. Photo by Darren MillerLast season West Branch advanced to the state semifinals after defeating Regina in the regional on its way to a 36-6 season.
On Monday, Kimm saw a similar performance from the Bears.
“I have never seen them play that well, I feel like that team right there probably could have beat last year’s team and the whole season I thought this team couldn’t hold a candle to last year’s team,” Kimm said. “I give them a lot of credit for the way they played tonight.”
West Branch swept Regina 22-20, 21-5 in the RVC tournament in the last meeting between the two teams back on Oct. 10.
Monday couldn’t have started much different.
Regina used an early 6-1 run to take an 8-4 lead and never trailed again in a 25-15 opening-set win.
“I think we were a little nervous, a little stiff,” Bridges said. “The last time we played them it 21-5 and it’s hard to humble yourself after that and come back and play like you lost and they took it to us.”
Regina appeared poised to take a commanding lead in the match when it built a 13-9 lead in the second set.
West Branch responded.
The Bears used a 7-0 run that featured a pair of ace serves from Sophie Nopoulos to take a 17-14 lead.
Regina tied the match at 18 but West Branch scored the next three points, two on back-to-back kills by Knoop and never trailed again.
West Branch evened the match at one set each on a kill by Bridges that secured the second set win.
“We came out a little slow but after we were controlling the net, we were controlling our serves,” Knoop said. “Every aspect of the game I think we were controlling.”
Regina scored the first six points of the second set and led 15-6 but couldn’t put the Bears away.
An 8-1 West Branch run cut the lead to 17-15 and the Bears later took its first lead of the set at 23-22 with three straight points.
A Lehman kill tied the match at 23 but West Branch got a kill by Bridges and an ace block by sophomore Abbey Fryauf to close out the win.
“We just got back to work,” West Branch coach John Walsh said. “We had a game plan we were working on and just executed a lot better in those last three sets.”
West Branch again made the plays late in the fourth set to close out the match.
Knoop had seven of her match-high 21 kills in the fourth set as the Bears rallied from a late 20-18 deficit.
“I like those close matches, the close sets,” Knoop said. “I like to play in those close moments.”
Regina led 21-19 but West Branch scored five straight points, a run that started with a Knoop kill to take a lead it would never give up.
“I feel bad for the seniors, I just wanted it so bad for them,” Kimm said. “We improved throughout the year, we knew it was going to be tough coming in here I just wish a couple more of those points would have gone our way and we’d be playing set five right now.”
Fryauf finished with seven kills and four ace blocks for West Branch while Kaiya Luneckas had three kills and two ace blocks.
“It’s been really exciting for me to see them develop that consistence over the last month or so,” Walsh said. “We continued with that tonight.”
Regina 25 21 23 23
West Branch 15 25 25 25
Katrina Chambliss 3-1-1, Grace Swenning 3-1-2, Sarah Lehman 19-1-1, Alexa Lehman 6-0-0, Olivia Wolfe 12-0-0, Katie Dunn 5-0-0, Morgan Parthemore 0-2-0, Team 48-6-4.
Assists – Grace Swenning 33.
Courtney Jarrett 0-1-0, Sydney Lamont 1-0-0, Abbey Fryauf 7-0-4, Sophie Nopoulos 2-3-0, Abby Knoop 21-0-1, Kaiya Luneckas 3-0-2, Claire Bridges 8-2-0, Team 42-6-7.
Assists – Sophie Nopoulos 16, Riley Vaughan 10.