Northland Pines’ McKenzie Parnewicz (No. 5) reaches up for a block during Thursday’s match at Mosinee.
Northland Pines’ McKenzie Parnewicz (No. 5) reaches up for a block during Thursday’s match at Mosinee.
The end of a historic run for the Northland Pines girls volleyball team came Thursday in Mosinee.

After winning their first WIAA Regional volleyball championship in program history, the team struggled to find any offensive flow, eventually bowing from the Division 2 postseason with a 3-1 loss to the Mosinee Indians.

“We didn’t come out and play the way we could or should have,” said Pines head coach Julie Smith. “I felt like we were ready to go, but when we stepped on the court we just saw some nervousness that was fringing on fear.

“I don’t know if it was that stigma of not being able to beat them, but the atmosphere was great. We had so much support in that gym, but I think we just didn’t play our game.”

In their third attempt this season to upset the three-time defending conference champs, who themselves were looking for a repeat appearance at the WIAA State Championships, the Eagles were unable get the early momentum, falling behind early as they lost the first set 19-25.

In the second set Pines pulled the match even at one set apiece by winning 25-21.

Mosinee responded in the third as they picked up a win 18-25, then closed the match in the fourth as they won 20-25.

“They did a couple things that made us have to pull Jacqueline (Smith) away from the block, and with a setter who was sort of learning how to do that on the fly it was a lot to ask,” said Smith. “We worked on defending some sharp pushes and tips which we knew Mosinee would use, we just didn’t communicate the way we are used to doing.

“If that same team who showed up for the game against Mauston would’ve shown up in Mosinee I am confident we’d have had a chance.”

The win for Mosinee vaulted them into the Division 2 Sectional Final which they hosted Saturday night against Bloomer.

Bloomer earned the trip to State however, staving off elimination after the third set, winning in five sets 21-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23 and 15-12.

For Smith and the Eagles, the luster of what was a productive season was not lost in the defeat.

“I have never experienced a team quite like this,” said Smith. “We kept positive and supported one another. The energy really picked up and that made a huge difference, especially late in the season.”

Smith said like most teams, hers also had to overcome a few obstacles throughout the course of the year. But in the end, she was pleased with where they finished.

“We really turned a corner after that Wausau West tournament,” said Smith. “If you would have asked me early in the season, I would not have foreseen what we accomplished this season. Especially with finishing second in conference and winning a Regional title.

“This team pulled together as a team going through a lot of transformation along the way.”

Smith said she was proud of how McKenzie Parnewicz closed her season at Mosinee where she had a “great night”.

“She played strong and confident and stood out really,” said Smith. “Mosinee did all they could to stop her, but she found some success on offense and was really tough defensively.”

The Eagles finished alone in second place this year in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) and according to head coach Julie Smith exemplified the meaning of a team.

Though they finished second, they still ranked fifth in number of athletes recognized on the All-Conference team.

For the fourth consecutive season Jacqueline Smith was honored by the GNC coaches with designation to the postseason awards team.

After earning Honorable Mention as a freshman, Smith was a First Team designee as a sophomore and then Player Of The Year in both 2018 and again this year.

Smith posted career-best numbers and far-and-away led the conference offensively, posting 306 kills in 12 games (48 total sets) for an average of 6.4 kills per set. That total was nearly double the next highest total in the league posted by Clare Aulik of Antigo (3.3 kills per set).

The senior hitter led the league in total attacks at 608, but amazingly also had the league’s best conversion rate of 42.3%, which was five percentage points higher than the next best in the GNC. It is the second consecutive year Smith has led the conference in both these offensive categories.

She was second overall in service aces (36), sixth in digs (179) and seventh in blocks (39).

Joining Smith on the First Team was Mosinee’s Paige Wicklund and Brook Montgomery, Kamry Albrecht of Medford, Mady Hanse of Tomahawk and Claire Aulik and Emma Jaje of Antigo.

Pines sophomore Samantha Huelskamp was honored by the league also, securing Second Team All Conference as a setter. She was the only underclassmen named to either the First or Second Team.

Huelskamp covered the court well for Julie Smith’s squad, coming in and taking over midway through the season after injury sidelined Macy Marion.

Huelskamp played in 47 of 48 conference sets this season and was fourth best in assists with 239. Her 94 digs on the season were third best overall for Pines while she also put 92.2% of her serves in play — fourth best on the team.

Also earning accolades was junior libero Lily Bontrager, whose play in the back row specifically on defense was noticed.

Bontrager appeared in all 48 sets in league play this season and was eighth overall in the GNC with 162 digs. Her 93.1% serve percentage was behind only McKenzie Parnewicz and Elizabeth Gauthier.

Julie Smith was also recognized by the league coaches as the 2019 Coach Of The Year in the GNC. It is Smith’s third time winning the award, having done so in 2014 as co-coach of the year and then being selected out-right in 2016.