MERCER, Wis. — Shell Lake is some No. 7 seed.
The Lakers grabbed the momentum after a first-set loss and used a solid offense to upset No. 2 Mercer 3-2 in Thursday’s WIAA Division 4 regional volleyball semifinal.
The Indianhead Conference East Division champion Tigers finished at 25-5 with the 18-25, 25-10, 25-16, 23-25, 15-10 loss.
“We went down swinging; that’s for sure,” Mercer Robyn Schoeneman said. “I couldn’t be happier with the season we had. One loss doesn’t take away the 25 wins we had. We only lost five times; you can count it on one hand. That’s nothing to sneeze at.”
Few if any regional teams play Shell Lake during the regular season, but most of the other teams play each other, which helps explain why the Lakers were seeded seventh out of 14 teams. Shell Lake plays in the tough Lakeland Central Conference with teams like Cameron, Turtle Lake and Clayton.
“We’re usually a pretty good sleeper,” Shell Lake coach Jessica Furchtenicht said. “We face strong competition all year.”
“I don’t think a seven seed did much justice to their team,” she said. “They are way better than a seven seed and they were a big surprise to us that way. They didn’t get much credit for their abilities because they play in a tough conference. They play at a high level and we knew that going in.”
Shell Lake had some hard-to-defend power hitters and its defense was just as solid, getting a piece of most shots at the net and digging shots that didn’t look salvageable.
“Our offense tonight was so good,” Furchtenicht said. “We’re led by seniors, so we have an old, veteran team. They were able to just come out and hit the ball. I don’t think they were expecting that. We had great blocks, which caused them to start tipping and our coverage was really good.”
Mercer saw Shell Lake sweep Northwood in the regional quarterfinal Tuesday.
“We knew what they had as far as hitters went and then they started tipping,” Schoeneman said. “They started doing things that caught us back on our heels and we weren’t expecting that. We were certainly geared towards the hitters. We really started digging towards the end and took them out of their game. Then they started tipping it and we were back on our heels. We weren’t adjusting as quickly as we should have. By the end we did, but maybe it was just a little too late.”
Mercer looked to be on a good path after scoring nine straight points midway through the first game, a 25-18 win.
“We came out really well. We were in the lead to start and won that first game with really solid play,” Schoeneman said.
But Shell Lake turned a 6-6 tie in the second game to a 23-8 lead and firmly took the momentum. The Lakers kept it in the third game, taking an early 9-2 lead and keeping the gas pushed in. It was a pretty good recovery from a first-set loss on the road.
“We were able to dig down deep, which was something we haven’t seen all season from them,” Furchtenicht said.
Shell Lake again took the early lead in game four, but Mercer fought back and forced a thrilling back-and-forth the rest of the game. After Mercer came back to tie it at 14-14, the teams traded points until the Tigers finally took a two-point 24-22 advantage. Shell Lake made it 24-23, but Mercer scored the winning point on a bad Shell Lake serve.
Mercer’s offense worked well late in game four with Lexi Engler and Nikki Kempf able to tally kills and even a couple of blocks on Shell Lake’s hitters.
“In the fourth game, we started to play with a little more heart and enthusiasm, which is what we built our whole season around,” Schoeneman said.
The Tigers kept their momentum into the fifth game, taking a 4-0 lead. They looked good getting the lead with Engler going to the floor to save one of Shania Pokorny’s many powerful shots. Sydney Thompson also had a block in the run.
But that didn’t faze senior-laden Shell Lake. Pokorny finally got her third shot of the play to fall for a kill. That gave Shell Lake its first point of the fifth set and the Lakers managed to score 12 straight points.
Mercer pulled back within 13-9 but couldn’t stop Shell Lake any longer. The Tigers got a nice hand from their home crowd after completing a nice season, albiet too soon.
Mercer lost outside hitter Kempf during that fifth game; a big loss that Shell Lake exploited. She had some issues breathing while battling illness and asthma, Schoeneman said.
“It’s hard when a cornerstone of your team goes down, but we fought hard and we played well,” Schoeneman said. “I’m proud of them.”
No. 3 Washburn swept No. 6 Bayfield and will host Shell Lake in Saturday’s regional final. Washburn likely expected to be coming to Mercer Saturday night.
The future is bright in Mercer. Just two seniors graduate, but they were big pieces this year, Kempf and Kassie Wiedower. At one time, Mercer played with four freshmen on the court Thursday.