Senior Izzy Goettelman is convinced there is at least one silver lining for the Winona Senior High volleyball team having to wear masks in practice: Better communication when it comes to gametime.
“Since we wear masks at practice, I feel like now we are just yelling because we have been yelling through our masks,” she said. “I feel like that definitely helped because it made us louder and communicate more just because you can’t always hear behind you with the masks on. You have to scream or else you won’t be able to hear someone.”
The Winhawks combined that with a balanced offense to take their season opener over Rochester John Marshall 25-19, 27-25, 13-25, 25-20 in front of a spectatorless crowd Thursday night at Winona Senior High School.
Despite the rollercoaster it has been these past few weeks and the fact that they have a roster that lacks varsity experience, the Winhawks came out of the gate strong. They showed great passing and were able to move the ball around well, keeping the Rockets and 6-foot-2 Lilly Meister guessing.
“That’s the one thing we really tried to work was just balance and making sure we aren’t just setting it in the middle every time,” Goettelman said. “Make sure everyone keeps changing, so we aren’t doing it in the same spot. It doesn’t give them an easy chance to block it.”
Senior setter Paige Grafton was the catalyst, seemingly delivering the ball in the right spot at the right time to finish with 19 assists.
“It felt like when things were going well, they were going well and when we struggled somebody had to take charge and that happened,” coach Amber Mlynczak said. “They shared the points and I thought Paige did a fantastic job of mixing it up and getting it to people, who were on and ready to go.”
Goettelman led the way with 10 kills and was the one that set the tone in the first set for the Winhawks with three kills early to help Winona take a 6-2 lead. But when the Rockets focused in on taking away her shot down the line, it was the other Winhawks that then stepped up.
Kayla Robinson finished with seven kills and Allie Filzen finished with four, but what really separated the Winhawks was the fact that they didn’t plague themselves with unforced errors or mistakes. Something the Rockets struggled with.
Considering the lack of practice time, it was a bit of a surprise to see the Winhawks not make those little mistakes.
“Usually first game you have nerves and you are trying to figure out what to do,” Grafton said. “But we went out there and played great, nobody had nerves.”
Grafton also came up back when the Winhawks desperately needed it.
After the Rockets appeared to seize momentum with a convincing win in the third set, it was Grafton that opened up the fourth set serving. She was on serve for six straight points, tallying four aces as the Winhawks surged to a 6-0 lead before holding on for the 25-20 victory to take the match.
As a team, Winona finished with an eye-popping 18 aces with Grafton finishing with eight, Goettelman (five) and Kalia Carter (four).
“We had a lot of service aces tonight,” Mlynczak said. “That has not traditionally been our game. I thought we served super aggressively and hit our spots really well. That really helped as we were trying to create a gap.”
Mlynczak and the Winhawks know there is still plenty to be done but this was a good first step.
“We have some work to do,” Mlynczak said. “I think my whole team knows that when I asked them after the game they all said, ‘yep we have work to do’ but for our first night out with one returning player to the floor from last year. I think we did a pretty good job.”
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