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Bristol battles unbeaten Badger to the end

BRISTOLVILLE — Records can sometimes be deceiving.

The Badger Braves volleyball team came in with a perfect record while the Bristol Panthers were sitting a game below .500. This should have been easy, right? Not so fast.

Badger stayed undefeated, but it had to fight tooth and nail when it came to matching points in their 3-0 sweep Monday night in Northeastern Athletic Conference play.

Call it a case of the Mondays, but the Panthers (5-7, 5-6 NAC) were there every step of the way with the Braves (14-0, 12-0 NAC). In the opening set, the biggest lead from either team was 9-6 in favor of Bristol.

“There are a couple of teams in the league I think where the games can go either way,” Badger coach Erin Smolinski said. “If the team shows up like I think they should, it should be no problem. Everybody agrees Monday games are hard. Luckily, we had fewer mistakes.”

The Braves tied it up at 11 and then the teams traded points for the rest of the set until Badger came away with a 26-24 win.

“We’ve talked to them about being consistent and following through with each point,” Bristol coach Kaitlyn Christlieb said. “Reminding them that they can dig themselves in a hole, but they can dig themselves out of it just as easily. They’re scrappy. They’ll move their feet. They get to everything. We were going to have to fight through every point. We couldn’t get discouraged by being down.”

That advice came in handy when the Panthers fell behind 10-3 in the second set. Instead of letting the set get away from them, they battled back and eventually took an 18-17 advantage. They kept up with Badger, getting a 23-22 advantage, but wound up dropping the set, this time 27-25.

“We’ve had a rough start to the year with just being consistent all the way through,” Christlieb said. “We have a talented group of girls. They played to their ability tonight. That’s what we’re hoping to carry through the rest of the season.”

In the final set, the Braves again built out a big lead at 5-0, but again saw the Panthers fight their way back into it. Bristol held a 22-20 lead but again couldn’t come through in crunch time, falling 25-23.

“Our biggest thing was making them scramble,” Smolinski said. “It’s really hard for teams to play out of the system all the time. It really works to our advantage.”

That was evident at times when the points were crucial and the Braves came up with them time and time again.

“We were so close in each game,” Christlieb said. “I felt like we were fighting for it and just some of the calls didn’t go our way.”

The Braves were led by Grace Popovich’s nine kills, along with 17 digs from both Paige Kramer and Allyson Yauger. Yauger is seven digs away from 1,000 in her career.

“I’ve had these girls since they were in seventh grade as a group in some sport or another,” Smolinski said. “I told everyone, they’re a special group of girls. They’re going to do big things.”

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