Auburndale rallies to upend Spencer in a WIAA Division 3 volleyball regional final
By Paul Lecker
SPENCER – When the bright lights of the playoffs are on, the Auburndale volleyball team is at its best.
Last year, the Apaches won three straight five-set matches and defeated four higher-seeded teams to reach the Division 3 state championship game. Now, Auburndale is at it again.
The Apaches overcame a 2-1 deficit to win the final two games and upset top-seed Spencer 3-2 in a WIAA Division 3 regional final Saturday night at Spencer High School. Auburndale won by scores of 19-25, 25-19, 16-25, 25-23, 15-9.
Auburndale moves on to the Division 3 sectional semifinals and will play Marawood Conference South Division rival Marathon at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mosinee High School. Marathon defeated the Apaches 3-1 in a conference matchup earlier this year.
Spencer had beaten the Apaches earlier this year too, but it doesn’t matter the way the Apaches are playing now.
“We really focus on taking the pressure off and going out there and having a good time,” Auburndale coach Peggy Empey said. “We talked last year about playing with passion. I have most of my team back and they know how to play with passion. When we just have fun and play our game, great things happen.”
Auburndale led 13-8 in Game 1 before Spencer rallied. Jenna Schober served five straight points, and Marisa Johnson had three kills in the final 6-0 run to give Spencer the win.
Auburndale dominated Game 2, rushing out to a 22-12 lead. The Apaches had three service aces and Shannon Yahnke, Jeanette Peplinski and Taylor Gotz each had two kills.
Spencer cut it to 22-18 with another 6-0 run, but the Apaches recovered and finished out the game 25-19 to even the match.
The Rockets pulled away in the middle of Game 3, scoring nine straight points to take an 18-9 lead. Two aces by Courtney Buss started the run and three kills from Macie Weber ended it. An ace from Jenna Rogers and a kill by Abby Varsho finished the game and put Spencer up 2-1.
With their backs up against the wall, the Apaches stepped up their game.
Block kills by Gotz and Sydney Schmutzer pushed Auburndale’s lead to 17-12 in Game 4. Spencer rallied yet again, taking a 20-19 lead, but the Apaches pulled it out at the end 25-23 thanks to three Rockets’ errors and a block kill by Yanke.
Despite winning the two of the first three games and showing flashes with a number of big runs, Spencer’s offense never really clicked.
“It was like a carbon copy of our match with Stanley-Boyd a week ago – hitting errors, mental errors,” Spencer coach Buff Heller said. “When you play a team like Auburndale you have to play your best game. We didn’t play our best games.
“Auburndale always plays fantastic defense. They keep it alive long enough that we were making mistakes. That’s all they had to do.”
Auburndale took all of the momentum from Game 4 and never let up in the fifth one.
Auburndale scored five points in a row to take a 10-4 lead as the Rockets committed three hitting errors.
Block kills by Ashley Breu and Ashley Peplinski, and a pair of kills from Yanke finished it off.
“Offensively, it starts with that first pass and the girls were able to pick up that first pass,” Empey said. “Our hitters were able to take advantage of that tonight.”
Yanke led Auburndale with 18 kills and Gotz added 11, but Schmutzer was the rock for the Apaches. The junior setter had 36 assists, 15 digs and four service aces.
“She (Schmutzer) was amazing and her defense was amazing,” Empey said. “We are so proud of her.”
Johnson led Spencer with 17 kills and 36 digs, Buss added 26 digs and Brooke Kettleborough had 44 assists for the Rockets, who had another strong season, winning the Cloverbelt Conference East Division title for the third-straight year and reaching the regional finals.
“It was a solid year, all year long,” Heller said. “These girls played great. The bad part is that they had two sub-par performances at the end of the year. It was a bad time.”