Warrior playoff run ends in season highlighted by growth and teamwork

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Alivia Wiley bumps up a serve during Central’s first round playoff victory over Valley Lutheran. (Photos by Bev Hamann)

Brooklyn Amsden tips the ball over the net to earn a kill against the Crusaders.

Lizzie Royer sets the ball in the game against Janesville.

Oakley Armstrong digs out a ball in last week's playoff opener.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The final week of the Central volleyball season got off to what coach Kelly Erickson called a great start, as the Warriors entered the playoffs with a round one game at home versus Valley Lutheran. It was a game where the “excitement was palpable,” as the players took to the court in what would end in a decisive 3-0 victory for the Warriors. Central beat the Crusaders in straight sets, 25-15, 25-13 and 25-10. 


“As a coach, I couldn’t be prouder of how we performed.  It was evident we had been working hard and had come together as a cohesive unit.  Our players displayed remarkable teamwork, communicating well on the court and supporting each other every step of the way…it was truly a team effort,” Erickson said.


That effort included senior Brooklyn Amsden’s team-leading 11 kills. Lizzie Royer chipping in six kills and Reese Berns four, while Oakley Armstrong, Alivia Wiley and Marisa Rew all finished with three. Katie Royer led the team with 14 assists. 


On the defensive end, Mackayla Vlazny and Armstrong earned four digs apiece. L. Royer, Amsden and Brylee Erickson were not far behind, with three each.  


Vlazny’s performance in the serving department was “nothing short of exceptional,” Erickson said, as her accuracy and consistency made a significant impact on the team’s success in the match. Vlazny finished with an impressive 20 out of 21 attempts with seven aces. Katie Royer and Amsden finished with four aces each. 


The Warriors next faced the fourth-ranked Janesville Wildcats in the quarterfinal round on Oct. 19. Erickson described the Wildcats as an “incredibly challenging opponent [and] formidable test.”Despite giving all they had, the Warriors lost in straight sets, 25-6, 25-9 and 25-8.


“It’s important to recognize that facing a top-ranked team like Janesville is a valuable learning experience. While the outcome of this match may not have been what we hoped for, it’s essential to focus on the positives,” Erickson said. 


The list of positives started with Kristin Farmer, who came off the bench to give the offense a boost and ended up leading the team with four kills. 


This “demonstrated her readiness to step up when needed,” Erickson said. 


Other offensive contributors were L. Royer and Amsden, who each finished with two kills. 


The defense performed as a collective unit, with Vlazny leading the charge in the back line with five digs. Armstrong finished with four digs and Wiley and Erickson compiled three apiece. 


The Warriors ended their season with a record of 11-21, but for Erickson, the wins and losses only tell part of the story. The other half is the team’s growth—in areas like camaraderie, development, teamwork, commitment and resiliency throughout the season. 


“The unity and cohesion that developed among the team members as the season progressed were key factors in our overall success,” Erickson said.


That was embodied in season highlights, like the win against MFL MarMac which served as a turning point for the team, showcasing what Erickson said was a “growing synergy and determination.” 


It was a game that showed what the Warriors could do when everything worked as it should. The cohesion was again evident in a five-set victory over Clayton Ridge. According to Erickson, the win was a testament to the power of persistence, teamwork and unwavering effort. 


“This victory was not just a win on the scoreboard but instilled a belief that we can achieve greatness when we work together,” Erickson commented.


Central looked to senior Lizzie Royer, the Warriors’ main setter for the previous three seasons, a duty she shared this year with sister Katie. Lizzie finished with 194 assists, a remarkable 146 kills and 221 digs, which was second best on the team. As a result, Lizzie received the honor of being voted first team all-conference. 


Katie led the team in assists with 211, and was “instrumental in driving the team’s offense, showcasing her remarkable talent for a player of her age and experience level,” Erickson said. 


Then there was junior and middle hitter Tori Sylvester, whose season was cut short due to an injury, forcing her to miss the playoffs. Still, though, Erickson said she was pivotal in the success, finishing with 125 kills and a team leading 227 digs. Sylvester’s efforts earned her second team all-conference.  


“Her ability to read the game, anticipate plays and dig out difficult shots made her an invaluable asset in the back court. Tori’s well-roundedness, both as an attacker and a defensive stalwart, was truly commendable,” Erickson said. 


Not to be overlooked were the contributions of senior Amsden, who became an “integral part” of the team’s offensive strategy, playing the crucial role of an attacker. Amsden secured the second-highest number of kills with 131 and led the team with 32 aces. Amsden received all-conference honorable mention. 


“Amsden’s dedication and hard work throughout the season were evident in her performance on the court. Her journey from improvement to becoming an essential part of our offensive game was a testament to her commitment to the team’s success,” Erickson said. 


The libero for the 2023 season, Vlazny, proved to be a vital player on defense, compiling 220 digs. This displayed her ability to read the game, react quickly and make crucial saves to keep rallies alive. More remarkable was Vlazny’s serve record, leading the way in serve successes with 218 out of 233 attempts, which amounted to a 94 percent success rate. Vlazny was also recognized as all-conference honorable mention. 


“As the season comes to a close, I look back with pride on the progress we’ve made as a team.  Our commitment to improvement and teamwork will continue to be our guiding principles, ensuring the next season holds greater promise and success,” Erickson said.


Looking ahead to next season isn’t far from Erickson’s mind. She cited two areas the team will work on: serve percentage and hitting efficiency. 


The Warriors simply missed too many serves during the season, limiting their ability to control the tempo of the game and put pressure on opponents. Erickson is aiming for a serving accuracy of over 90 percent, which will reduce unforced errors, maintain momentum and force the opposition into challenging positions. 


Erickson is also setting a goal of 1,000 serves for the athletes before the start of next season, because a reliable serve will “set a strong foundation for success” next season, she said.


Hitting efficiency is about working on the timing of attacks to reduce errors and maximize plays on offense. 


The program will look to conduct open gyms throughout the winter and spring and explore getting athletes involved in AAU volleyball during the offseason, so players have an opportunity to gain experience, face tough competition and refine their skills. 


It’s also an effort to help mitigate potential struggles associated with replacing graduating players. The Warriors will say goodbye to five seniors, including L. Royer, Vlazny, Amsden, Leah Reinhart and Marissa Rew. 


But with the right guidance and motivation, it’s just another challenge like any other and in a season where Erickson got her team to compete at the highest level without an assistant and being responsible for all three Central teams. It’s unlikely that will be an obstacle she won’t overcome. 


For Erickson, this was an “immensely rewarding experience.” 


“The strong sense of unity and teamwork among the athletes made my role as their coach exceptionally enjoyable.  Witnessing the way they collaborated and supported one another on and off the court was truly inspiring. Their camaraderie not only contributed to a successful season but also added a special element of satisfaction to my coaching journey,” she said.

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