GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - The Green Bay volleyball team (13-11, 4-6 HL) picked up an important Horizon League win Friday night, defeating in-state rival Milwaukee (8-15, 3-7 HL) 3-1 in front of 353 fans at the Kress Center. The Phoenix dropped the opener, but responded with dominant victories in sets two through four (21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-18) to earn its first win over the Panthers since 2008.
"With this team that we have, unfortunately a lot of their memories of playing against Milwaukee involve a lot of five-setters that didn't go our way," Green Bay head coach Debbie Kirch said. "Tonight we came out and took care of business. There's a reason Milwaukee has been at the top of our conference for a number of years, so it's nice to have this kind of a memory from playing against them."
Monica Anderson (Cottage Grove, Wis.) led a balanced Phoenix attack with 14 kills, while Carmen Leitermann (Schofield, Wis.) and Katie Mroczenski (New Berlin, Wis.) also reached double-figures with 13 and 10, respectively. Junior setter Leah Poel (Jenison, Mich.) directed the Green Bay offense with a match-high 49 assists, helping five players tally eight or more kills.
"Poel did a great job of moving the ball around," Kirch said. "You can just look at the set distribution. She moved the ball around and that's why our hitters were so open. It's hard to defend a team when you don't know where the ball is going."
Milwaukee got off to a strong start in the first, using a 6-0 run to jump out to a 10-7 lead. The Phoenix fought back to tie the score at 10-10, and the two teams were all square at 18-18 late, but the Panthers closed with a 7-3 run to pick up the 25-21 win and the 1-0 advantage.
Set two was all Green Bay, as the hosts built a 15-8 lead after a kill by Lyndsay Zabkowicz (Oak Creek, Wis.). The Panthers cut it to three (17-14) with a service ace by Anna Bartz, but back-to-back kills by Leitermann and Anderson pushed the Phoenix lead to 19-14. A kill by Mroczenski gave Green Bay a set point chance at 24-16, and Zabkowicz ended it with a kill on the following point to knot things up at 1-1.
Three straight kills, including two by freshman Taylor Kasal (Westmont, Ill.), gave the home team a 12-8 lead in set three, forcing a Milwaukee timeout. Moments later, Green Bay rattled off four straight points to move ahead 17-9 thanks in part to a pair of Brittany Groth (Oak Creek, Wis.) service aces. The Phoenix led by as many as nine (21-12) in the third, and Kasal capped off the 25-18 win with her fourth kill of the set.
Groth continued her hot serving in the fourth, serving six straight times while registering two more aces to help the Phoenix to a 6-2 lead. Green Bay extended its lead to five (14-9) after a kill by Leitermann, and three straight kills by three different players gave Green Bay its largest advantage at 21-13. Mroczenski notched her 10th kill of the contest to give the Phoenix a match point try, and Leitermann's 13th kill ended it at 25-18.
Mroczenski's 10 kills marked a career high, as the junior hit an impressive .400 on the night to help the Phoenix snap a nine-match losing streak against the Panthers.
"I think Katie played a great match," Kirch said. "She's been a solid starter for us all season but, but tonight she did such a great job offensively and that really helped our outsides because they had to respect her in the middle."
Groth posted match-highs in digs (20) and service aces (4), while Leitermann led all players with seven blocks, including her school-record 100th solo block of her career. Julie Kolinske paced Milwaukee with a match-high 17 kills, while Elizabeth Egerer reached double-digits with 12, but also had 12 errors.
Friday's contest represented Green Bay's annual breast cancer awareness match, as the team wore pink uniforms and gave fans a number of opportunities to help raise awareness and funds to fight breast cancer. Friday was also alumni night, as the Phoenix recognized all alumni in attendance. Former Phoenix standout Jill Smits Damrow (2002-05) addressed the Kress Center crowd prior to the match, talking about the importance of raising awareness and money for breast cancer research. The Phoenix volleyball program began its efforts fighting the disease in 2005 when Damrow's mother developed breast cancer prior to her senior campaign.
Green Bay wraps up its three-match homestand next weekend when it hosts the Horizon League's two Chicago schools. The Phoenix first welcomes Loyola to the Kress Center on Friday, Nov. 2 for a 7 p.m. meeting, and then hosts UIC the following day at 2 p.m.
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