Stratford hopes to use experience to its advantage at WIAA State Girls Volleyball Tournament

Stratford’s Blaire Lindner puts down a kill during the Tigers’ win over Fall Creek in a sectional semifinal match on Oct. 25 at Neillsville High School. Stratford will play Living Word Lutheran in a Division 3 semifinal at the 2018 WIAA State Girls Volleyball Tournament in Green Bay on Friday afternoon. (Photo by Paul Lecker/MarshfieldAreaSports.com)

By Paul Lecker
For focusonmarshfield.com

STRATFORD – Stratford will be playing in its second-straight WIAA State Girls Volleyball Tournament and plan to use its experience gained from last year’s appearance to its advantage.

The Tigers will take on Living Word Lutheran (29-6) in a Division 3 semifinal at the 2018 WIAA State Girls Volleyball Tournament at Resch Center in Green Bay at 1 p.m. Friday. Grantsburg (31-5) will take on defending D-3 state champion Lake Country Lutheran (36-11) in the other semifinal, which is on an adjacent court at 1 p.m. The winners will clash for the Division 3 state title at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Last year, Stratford didn’t make the championship match as it had hoped. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead against Eau Claire Regis, the Tigers were unable to hold on and dropped the final three sets.

There should be no more jitters or wondering. Stratford, which features six players who saw significant playing time on last year’s squad, including unanimous first-team all-Marawood Conference South Division players Jadyn Dahlke and Mazie Nagel, have been there and will be ready to roll come Friday afternoon.

Living Word Lutheran, on the other hand, will be going through the experience for the first time, much like the Tigers did in 2017.

“Last year, it was a lot of the unknowns,” Stratford coach Brooke Kafka said. “Going into the locker room, getting on to the court in the big gym, all the fans – the whole town of Stratford. I think it’s nice that some of those things aren’t even a factor anymore. We know what to expect when we go in there, and we can just focus on the game itself. Some of the fluff that goes along with it is not a priority.”

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Mazie Nagel has led the team in kills in each match this season, but all of the other players have contributed one way or another. Whether it’s Dahlke or Brooke Peterson, who split time between setter and outside hitter, or Blaire Lindner, Lauryn Nagel or Callie Lehman knocking down kills, or the play of Libero McKenna Krall, another first-team all-conference selection, in the back row, the Tigers are a diversified bunch with a lot of weapons.

But the Tigers have rolled to an undefeated record not just because of their obvious physical abilities. The improvement in their mental game, Kafka said, has been a key.

“Part of it is, we don’t talk about records or rankings, we just play each game, each point for everything that it’s worth,” Kafka said. “The process that we went through last year has built us into the team this year that we are mentally.”

Knowing that getting a second chance isn’t all that typical, Dahlke wants to make the most of their trip to Green Bay.

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“I couldn’t be more honored to be part of this team. I love it,” Dahlke said. “We, every day, say that we are so lucky to be part of this team and so lucky to have the team that we have. We have alumni coming back and saying, ‘I wish that we had. You guys are so focused and you guys care.’ It means a lot that we are making it this far and that’s something that I’m going to remember forever, as I’m sure the rest of the girls will too.”

Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com and a contributor to focusonmarshfield.com.