Michele Benoit’s home debut as women’s volleyball coach at Parkside would result in such dramatic fashion one could only expect out of a fairy tale ending. The Rangers extended their seven-match winning streak to eight Thursday night at UW Parkside in Kenosha by avoiding an upset of the Winona State University Warriors (2-7) by a close count of 3-2. The victory marked Benoit’s first home victory as part of the staff and put Parkside’s ability to maintain their poise to the ultimate test.
“It wasn’t the first time we’ve been put in this situation and came out on top,” said an exhausted Benoit. “They just need to refrain from giving me a heart attack.”
Both squads locked horns from the beginning of Game 1 as the early-going featured several lead changes. Parkside benefited from Winona service errors that bought time to shake off any home crowd nervousness. In addition, the Rangers had success penetrating the net defensively as well as executing quick attacks. This ability would be most exemplified when junior middle hitter Tami Gleason’s lights out smash would vault Parkside to a 17-16 lead.
After increasing their advantage to 22-19, two consecutive line shots by the Warrior’s would cut the deficit to one. Following a Rangers timeout, Benoit’s club would never look back as junior setter Andrea Gust’s nifty tip off a fake set would secure a Game 1 victory 25-22.
Winona’s senior outside hitter Carmen Stankowski would bring the Rangers back down to earth with a slew of powerful hits to open Game 2. As Parkside’s defense sputtered, their offensive execution kept the game relatively close throughout. Down 22-23, Gleason would contribute with a clutch block which was followed up by the second brilliant tip of the game; however, this time it was sophomore setter Courtney Stack who provided the highlight and added four assists.
With the opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 game lead, a defensive miscue by Parkside would open the door for the Warriors to take advantage of the momentum swing. Winona would steal Game 2 29-27 by the result of senior Kelsey Penebaker’s cross court bullet that would just barely graze the side line.
Parkside would seem to find their knack in Game 3 portraying a poise that seemed absent in the start of the match. Featuring another back and forth battle, neither team surrendered a lead of more than three points throughout. Tied at 23, a fundamental block setup by Parkside’s rotation defense would bait Penebaker into spiking an outright loser. In spite of a questionable call off Parkside’s next serve, the Rangers would enter Game 4 with 2-1 match lead.
Looking to put away Winona, Parkside pulled out to a comfortable 15-11 advantage in Game 4. However, it was Parkside’s turn for service error low-lights. Led by the superior serving of Winona’s Shannon McGowan, the Warriors closed the gap and took the lead by way of an 11-2 run that Parkside could never overcome.
Following a 22-25 loss in Game 4 in which the Rangers surrendered a lead, they came out flat to start the fifth game. Despite a 6-9 deficit however, Parkside clawed their way back behind two key blocks by sophomore right side hitter’s Cassy Marx and Addie Kramer. Tied at 17, junior Cassie Wilkens’ clutch kill would seal the story-book comeback that would end in a 19-17 Game 5 win.
“Last year we suffered a loss in our home debut,” said sophomore libero Stacie Bower. “It was great to come out with a win and get a little redemption.”
Bower anchored a solid Parkside defense with 22 digs and chipped in with four assists. Gust and Stack combined for 42 assists and 22 digs. Also, Gleason and Marx both contributed four blocks a piece. Winona’s Stankowski led all players with 22 kills.
The Rangers will host an eight-team tournament starting tomorrow at 11 am. Parkside will host St. Cloud State at 1:30 pm Friday and then take on Minnesota State Mankato at 6:30 pm.
“Our girls need to to take the momentum from the start and feed off of it as the match progresses,” added Benoit. “It’s an encouraging start to a long weekend.”