The Barron Golden Bears completed an unbeaten run through the Heart O’North volleyball tournament with a thrilling three-set victory over Bloomer to earn a shared league title with the Blackhawks.
Barron’s first HO’N title since 2014 continues a strong volleyball tradition for the Golden Bears. Starting with a 1973 championship, Barron has won an amazing 31 league titles over 46 seasons.
During the first round of the 2018 conference tourney, the girls beat Cumberland, Spooner, Northwestern and Hayward Oct. 6 at Cumberland. Those victories improved Barron’s HO’N record to 10-1, with the Bears’ lone loss coming in straight sets to Bloomer on the floor back on Sept. 11.
The Oct. 6 victories made it possible for Barron to catch Bloomer when the league’s southern contingent met Oct. 11 at Chetek. There, the Bears beat Chetek-Weyerhaeuser 25-11, 25-14 and Ladysmith 25-15, 25-16 to set up the title match against Bloomer.
“We knew we had to keep our focus on one match at a time and not look past anyone to accomplish what we wanted to Thursday night,” Barron coach Bobbi Jo Fornell said. “The girls did exactly that; you could feel the energy and anticipation in the gym going into the Bloomer match, with a fantastic crowd showing from Barron.
“We started off so slow and Bloomer came out ready to play; that got us in the position of being down 18-8 when Kiara Johnson came into serve.”
The senior sparked a rally.
“Kiara served us to be tied 18-18, along with some amazing defensive digs,” the coach said. “The girls started clicking and playing point-by-point, but we came up short, losing the first game 22-25. You could sense the focus that our girls brought, not getting rattled but continuing to work as a team.”
The second set was a nail-biter from the beginning. The score was tied 16 times, including 21-21, before Barron pulled out a 25-21 win.
Barron stormed ahead 5-1 in the decisive third set and was a point away from victory at 14-9 before having to call timeout with the match tied 14-14. Bloomer scored the next point with an attack at the net. Barron knotted the score but then fell behind again, 16-15, with a serve into the net.
Their backs to the wall, the Bears pulled even again and then scored the knockout punch – a block by senior Amia Fornell on an attack by Bloomer standout Grace Post – to win 18-16, hand Bloomer its first league loss and pull even in the final Heart O’North standings.
“Lydia Miller did a great job of adjusting to a big block Bloomer was putting up and getting around it, along with Emily Linsmeyer swinging smart and playing some of the best defense she has played this year,” coach Fornell said. “Amia Fornell was coming up with some big blocks in the front and playing some all-out defense in the back row.
“Chloe Miller and Izzy Johnson were getting some key touches to help our defense make hard balls playable and they also put down some nice hard swings.
“Julia Wirth continues to be rock solid as our setter, not only in her hustle but her demeanor on the court and ability to run the offense when the pressure is on,” the coach continued. “Megan Bartlett had some great touches and dug up some hard balls. To come in as a sophomore in a third game situation and have the focus she had was amazing to serve us to a win.
“Kaylee Johnson and Makayla Eraquam continue to work hard and dig up hard balls to return to make us better daily, along with Macey Herman, Brooke Hammann, Faith Peltier, Allison Coss and Abby Miller. Having strong competition on the other side of the net is a huge blessing for us in practice.”
The Golden Bears will next enter the Div. 2 WIAA playoffs, seeded seventh in their 14-team half-sectional bracket. The seeding meetings were held before Barron’s win over Bloomer. The Blackhawks have the top seed.
Barron was hosting 10th-seeded Ashland on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with the winner to visit second-seeded St. Croix Central at Hammond on Thursday, Oct. 18. Regional title matches will be held Saturday.
If both teams continue to advance, Barron could see Bloomer again in a sectional semifinal set for Thursday, Oct. 25, at Osceola. The winner would play again Oct. 27 at Altoona for a berth into the state tourney.
Coach Fornell hopes the Golden Bears’ momentum will carry into the postseason.
“It is so rewarding as a coach to watch your team in a tough match when the pressure is on and see them focusing on connecting with each other after every point and encouraging each other to push through,” she said. “It didn’t matter what the score was or if the girls were on the court or on the bench, they were playing for each other and a common goal and they did it!
“Bloomer is the number one seed going into regionals and we are seeded seventh; it just proves during playoff time anything is possible. We hope to carry this energy and continue to improve into tournament time.”