Thursday night’s battle between two of the premier volleyball teams in the state lived up to the hype, as Mayer Lutheran and Watertown-Mayer battled back and forth in a thrilling Thursday night match.

“It was very competitive and very energetic,” Claudia Stahlke said.

In front of a packed gym, the two highly-ranked teams battled for every point and it was rare for either side to lead by more than three points.

Mayer Lutheran got an early boost from Lilly Wachholz, who helped deliver the 25-20 set one victory with six kills and two blocks. But in set two, Wachholz went down with an injury to put Mayer Lutheran without two of their best players at the net. The Crusaders didn’t miss a beat as their roster is loaded with talent, with Stahlke taking the lead in set two to the tune of five kills and a block on the way to a 25-22 win.

“We’re really good with adversity,” Stahlke said. “I feel like we can move people around and that helps us out.”

In set three the Royals fought back thanks to big plays from possibly their smallest player. Freshman libero Kate Thibault was a ball of energy in the back row and refused to let the ball hit the floor, frustrating the Crusader attack in a 25-21 win.

“Kate will keep that ball in play no matter who we’re playing,” Watertown-Mayer coach Andrea Raser said. “She brings confidence and she brings raw emotion. She’s not going to let that ball hit the floor.”

In set four, Mayer Lutheran responded with some tough defense of their own to win some long rallies. Reagan Sauter had eight digs, Gabby Wachholz tallied seven and Emma Lade added six to keep the ball from hitting the court.

“The defense really stepped up and did a great job getting the ball up and letting our setters get the ball to our hitters,” coach Joelle Grimsley said.

That defense turned to offense as Stahlke and Sauter combined for 10 kills and Lexi Schermann added two more on the way to a clinching 25-20 victory.

“Our communication was pretty good and that let us have more control on our side,” Stahlke said.

So without two of their top players, the Crusaders still defeated a ranked opponent that also is coming off multiple years at the state tournament.

“Even with two of our big hitters out, it didn’t phase us,” Lade said. “We kept pushing it, trying our best to keep get our hits down and make good passes and good sets.”

Stahlke led the attack with 18 kills while adding four digs and a block. Lade and Riley Corrigan ran the offense with 25 and 14 assists respectively and Morgan Chmielewski had 19 digs in the back row.

Sauter had 18 digs, Lade picked up 13, Gabby and Anna Wachholz both had 10 to give the Crusaders five players with double-digit digs. Schermann and Paige Stahlke both had five digs and Corrigan had four.

Tallying kills – Sauter (6), Lully Wachholz (6), Gabby Wachholz (5), Anna Wachholz (4), Schermann (3) and Paige Stahlke (1).

Anna Wachholz had three aces, Lade and Chmielewski each had two.

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