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Badger tunes up with win over Rockets

Staff photo / Brian Yauger The Braves celebrate after a spike late in their 27-25 first-set victory over Maplewood. Badger finishes the regular season with an 18-3 record.

MECCA — Badger had already clinched the Northeastern Athletic Conference title, but the Braves needed one more win to complete a perfect league season.

They did just that in a three-set victory over second-place Maplewood.

The Braves started slow in the first two sets, falling behind by six points in each set, but they were able to extend both sets and win 27-25 and 28-26, respectively.

“We started out much slower than we anticipated in practice for,” Badger coach Isabella Greenawalt said. “We were down in the first set, looking like we were going to go to at least four, but the girls pulled it out. The second set started the same way. We were down seven or eight points, came back, dug in deep, wanted it and persevered.”

The final set had the potential for a blowout, with the Braves up 16-4 at one point, but the Rockets went on a run to tighten the game up. Badger was able to hold onto their lead and close the match out, 25-20.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Maplewood junior Grace Crown sends the ball back over the net. Crown finished the match with 15 kills.

“Both teams played great volleyball, absolutely fantastic,” Rockets coach Christen Clemson said. “I couldn’t have wished for a better game. Could have wished for a different result, but not a better game.”

Greenawalt, who is in her first season as coach of the Braves, has had plenty of success despite all the uncertainty. Badger is the top seed in the district and finished with a record of 18-3 and 17-0 in the NAC.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Greenawalt said. “Not with our record, but with sickness and practices, things change and it’s been a different ride, but it’s been a good one. The team has been phenomenal.

“We have JV girls performing when I need them to at the varsity level. If our varsity-level players aren’t performing, they understand that they have 15 teammates on the sideline that would love to come in and help out, so it’s been a very good season.”

The Braves were led by Grace Popovich (11 kills) and Grace Eucker (7 kills) on offense. Calena Jablonski had 17 assists and Allyson Yauger had 39 digs.

Maplewood finishes second in the NAC with a 13-7 record and a 13-3 league mark, with their only non-Badger league loss coming from Mathews early in the season. With everything that’s happened, Clemson is just glad to be on the court.

“I’m just grateful to be playing,” Clemson said. “The fact that we managed to get a season I think is a testament to not only these girls staying healthy and being safe, but a testament to our parents and our community for doing the right thing… The most important thing I think is letting our kids have as normal a year as they possibly can.”

Grace Crown led the Rockets offensively with 15 kills, Hannah Faatz had 14 assists and Chloe Thompson had 16 digs for Maplewood.

There’s potential for a rematch between the two teams in the second round of the postseason, something that Greenawalt is preparing for. The Braves treated this matchup against Maplewood as their first postseason game in preparation for the potential rematch.

“Our last game was last night to us,” Greenawalt said.

For a rematch to occur, the Rockets need to beat Bristol in the first round of the postseason. Maplewood beat the Panthers 3-0 in both prior meetings this year, but don’t expect the Rockets to already have their eyes on Badger.

“We can’t overlook any team,” Clemson said. “Bristol is a strong competitor and we’ve got to take every game at a time. We beat them both times in the regular season, but that is not an indication of what happens in tournament time. Tournament time is a totally different beast.”

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