GALENA, Ill. — For the last four seasons, Galena has had its way with the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference. On the volleyball court, rival East Dubuque has been one of the many casualties the Pirates have torn through over the years.
This isn’t the same old Warriors team, though. On Thursday night, the two teams staged an epic battle that ultimately came down to a few close calls and the play of Galena’s experienced net minders.
Senior middles Sami Wasmund and Mackenzie Muehleip combined for nine blocks and eight kills as the Pirates remained unblemished, pulling away late from East Dubuque, 25-23 and 25-17, in Galena, Ill.
“Everything’s going great so far, but we know we’ve got to get better,” said Galena coach Dennis Wills, whose team improved to 9-0. “You saw us get a little bit of nerves in the big-game atmosphere. It was a good experience for them though, and grow from it.”
The Pirates surely earned the sweep, using strong starts in both sets to force an improved, 9-2 Warriors team to play catch-up. But there’s no denying that there were some questionable calls that went against East Dubuque in key moments of this match.
With Set 2 tied, 16-all, Sharon Mai’s hit appeared to go high off the Galena block, which would’ve meant a point for the Warriors. Instead, the referees awarded the point to the Pirates. Galena went on a 9-1 rally from there to clinch the sweep.
That wasn’t the only tough whistles East Dubuque heard. Early in the match, a Warriors player was called for a lift for setting a ball out of serve receive. Midway through Set 1, Mai was called for two net violations — even though she was standing 3 feet off the net during the supposed infractions.
Take nothing away from the Pirates, Warriors coach Ashley Sites said. It was just hard for East Dubuque to find rhythm.
“During tough games like this, with two good teams playing each other, the calls sometimes aren’t always consistent,” said Sites. Her team’s only two losses this year are to Galena. “It got into their head, I feel like, just a little bit. …
“We’ve come a long way in two years. I feel like this gives them the energy that they can keep up with Galena. … I feel like if we stay how we play, we do have a chance to beat them.”
Regardless, the Pirates did plenty to earn the win. McKenna Curran’s serving started Galena off on an 8-2 run in Set 1. Wasmund’s kill later in the frame eventually pushed the Pirates’ lead to 15-8, forcing Sites to burn her second timeout of the opener.
The Warriors came alive out of the break, with Paige Middendorf’s ace capping a 9-3 run that cut their deficit to 18-15. A kill by Maggie Furlong gave serve back to Galena, but back-to-back kills by Mai started another 6-2 spurt that tied Set 1, 21-all.
Muehleip smashed a ball out of the middle, Wasmund and Curran teamed up for a block, and Galena took control of the set. After Middendorf’s kill staved off set point, Kylie Brown answered with a well-timed tip-kill to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the match.
“We knew what we had to execute,” said Wasmund. “We really pulled through and did what we needed to.”
Galena had a 7-3 start to Set 2 before East Dubuque rallied to tie it at 14-apiece. The teams traded the next few points, with Anna Berryman’s kill tying the Warriors up with the Pirates, 17-all.
Muehleip came up with back-to-back blocks, while Gracie Wubben served out the final seven points. Her ace put Galena to match point, 24-17, and Furlong finished the job a play later with her team-high seventh kill.
Middendorf led East Dubuque with seven kills, three aces and two blocks.