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Bucks volleyball loses first league game to C.S. Lewis

Having pushed its unbeaten run through the Casco League to 14 games with rather routine 3-0 wins over rival Perrydale and lowly Crosshill Christian, the St. Paul volleyball team had already locked up at least a share of the conference title heading into its penultimate game of the conference season Thursday at home versus fast-rising C.S. Lewis Academy.

Powered by the return to full strength of 6-foot-2 do-everything middle blocker Mikaela Raudsepp, the Watchmen were riding an unbeaten streak of their own — nine games overall and six in the Casco League — since the Bucks dispatched them 3-0 on the road just 16 days earlier.

With Raudsepp, who played in a limited role in the previous match while recovering from a wrist injury, back in form, the Watchmen had swept Veritas for its first-ever victory against the Vanguard in program history, the match was set to be an intriguing measuring stick for the visitors and some rare in-league resistance for the hosts.

Even considering that Veritas was by far the best team CSLA played during its winning streak and that St. Paul might be set up for a letdown with the league seemingly wrapped up, no one in the gym could have expected the Watchmen to completely flip the landscape of the league, and perhaps the state, with an emphatic sweep of the Bucks.

But powered by an absolutely dominant effort by Raudsepp and a superb collective performance by the supporting cast, that’s exactly what C.S. Lewis did, earning its first-ever win over the perennial league powerhouse 25-18, 25-23, 25-22.

When not cheering St. Paul points, the home crowd was in a perpetual state of disbelief at the course the match was taking and awe at the degree to which one player could control a match.

Raudsepp compiled seven kills on seven hits in the first set, but was just getting started. If anything, her intensity rose steadily as the Watchmen continued to hold the Bucks at bay and strengthen their grip on the contest.

Winning points in just about every variety, from tip kills to thundering spikes, Raudsepp racked up kills hitting from the front and back rows, adding 10 more in the second set. St. Paul had mounted a late surge that was ultimately squelched by a thundering kill, which the Bucks actually dug out, but was hit so hard it immediately caromed off the ceiling and out of play, an ace by Raudsepp.

The third set was extremely tight – the margin never exceeded three points – but C.S. Lewis maintained the lead for the majority of the time, winning four of the final five points to break a 21-21 deadlock and secure the sweep.

A towering presence on defense as well, Raudsepp combined solid technique with her outstanding athleticism to seemingly cover the whole net when playing in the front row. That translated to five stuff blocks to go along with her 25 kills and six aces for the game, but perhaps more importantly, St. Paul became far less aggressive in its attacks after the first set, as it mostly tried to hit around her or simply play the ball over her and not attack.

Emma Coleman led the attack, registering seven kills, with Sara Pierson adding five, and Delaney Sump and Jessica Wilmes four apiece, to total just 13 as a team.

Combined with a tough day at the service line, where the Bucks committed eight errors, the hosts simply couldn’t overcome the Watchmen, who played so well that at times it seemed as if every little break went their way.

“We saw strong hitting from Emma, Delaney, Sara and Jessica, but we just didn’t set it up enough,” head coach Lesli Hiller said. “CS Lewis played the best we have ever see them play. They have improved on  setting up Raudsepp, who is hard to stop when she is three inches taller than our tallest hitter.”

Both teams defeated Crosshill earlier on Thursday in a three-way meet, with the Watchmen (10-6, 7-5 Casco League) ironically dropping their only set of their now 10-game unbeaten run to the lowly Eagles in a 3-1 win that saw them work out some of their kinks ahead of the more crucial match with the Bucks.

The Bucks (16-4, 14-1) will not play again until Friday and Saturday, when they make their annual trip to Arizona for the Nike Invitational, and will have a chance to lock up the top seed at the district tournament and an automatic bid to the state playoffs when they close out against Falls City on Oct. 22.




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