Middle blockers are like the second captains of the team to the setter, and they’re ferocious hitters.
It’s their job to call the offense on the other side and join forces with the outsides for blocking.
For Lake Mills, senior Mallory Wilhelm and junior Hannah Hanson were the driving forces of the offense and defense.
“I love the fact that you can always be an option at any point in time,” Wilhelm said. “Even if you’re on the back row, you’re always looked at as a hitter.”
In the Bulldogs' 17-25, 25-15, 25-19, 25-14 victory over Forest City on Tuesday night, it seemed like the energy picked up when Hanson was on the floor.
“She stayed aggressive and when she needed to go off speed, she was smart, but she stayed aggressive,” head coach Jim Boehmer said. “Forest City, I knew they were good, but they were better at handling the first ball than I anticipated, so we needed to be aggressive. She was swinging to score. Her goal was not to keep the ball alive, her goal was to finish play.”
Hanson was on fire, racking up 12 kills from the middle, 10 of which came from the first and second sets combined. With each slam, Hanson’s curly brown hair bounced as she turned around to swing her fist around her body and let out a huge yell, amplifying the purple crowd behind her.
“Tonight it was off the charts. Every point she was just on the ground,” Boehmer said. “She’s one of three underclassmen and I saw when Hannah was showing that, the rest of the team was looking at her. She brought passion, energy and guts. I was talking to the girls that we need some players who will put the team on their shoulders, but I think Hannah literally thought in her mind I was talking to her.”
Wilhelm picked up the pace on the blocking front with a team high of eight total blocks and surpassing Hanson in kills in the final set with 13, including seven in the third and fourth sets combined. After seeing Hanson’s celebrations, she was fueled to keep it going.
“I love getting kills, but I love seeing Hannah succeed just as much,” Wilhelm said.
And there was reason for all this racket – it was the battle for the conference title. Both teams were undefeated in conference, and the Bulldogs wanted to keep Boehmer's streak of 14 in a row alive.
“I wasn’t playing safe, I was playing hard,” Hanson said. “Just knowing that the conference is so big for me. I didn’t want to be that team. I just wanted to come out and play hard. It just made me happy.”
The first set was frightening, though. The Indians came out strong behind junior outside hitter Cora Holland, who totaled 11 kills on the match.
On the front row, Holland put balls to the floor from the left and middle positions. On the back row, she rolled around to keep the ball up. The Indians’ defense seemed unmatched as they took a five-point lead early in the set, 18-13.
During the Lake Mills timeout, Boehmer told his team what he’s been telling them all season.
“I talked all week, winning one set gets you beat 3-1,” Boehmer said. “If they cannot win the first set, girls, don’t panic. It’s one set, but if we come out and win the first set, I don’t want them to think, ‘Oh we got this.’ I think you have to have the right mindset, teams expend a ton of energy winning one set and if we keep out composure, we’ll be OK.”
The Bulldogs fought and lost the first set, but they came back with a vengeance in the second, taking a seven-point lead, 16-9. Forest City’s timeout wouldn’t make a difference, as the Bulldogs kept their composure to win the set with an extended lead, 25-15.
The third set saw more rally-scoring, the Indians kept the Bulldogs in sight on every point, until the Bulldogs would pull away with a comfortable lead, 22-17. Attack errors and the Bulldog’s menacing front line wouldn’t allow much more for the Indians as Lake Mills claimed the third set 25-19.
For both sides, the gym kept energy. The Forest City students held up a white board with three-word chants for each point, “She’s a freshman” for Kaylee Miller and “We want AC!” as the gym heated up. The Lake Mills students acted like they weren’t there, shouting in their button-downs and ties, dressed for success.
The Bulldogs held a 10-3 lead early in the fourth set. Wilhelm slammed a final kill on a free ball to center just beyond the 10-foot line, and sophomore Megan Groe had her say with three sneaky sharp-angle kills on the left. The Bulldogs closed the final set with Hanson on the front row, but the final kill would come from senior Teah Kesler, who racked up a team-high of 14 kills.
Senior Ashley Groe finished the night with a double-double performance, 44 assists and 13 digs. Senior libero Dana Baumann led the team in digs with 26.
Despite another conference championship under its belt, Lake Mills won’t get too comfortable with nine matches left to play in regular season.
Wilhelm and Hanson high-fived after the game, knowing they handled business Tuesday night. Wilhelm put her hands on her hips and looked up at the list of conference titles.
“I’ve been playing Forest City for three years and it means everything,” Wilhelm said. “They always put up a good fight.”