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Leopold advances to semifinals
The Wildcats knocked off Bell City to reach the state quarterfinals.
BELL CITY -- Leopold senior Maddy Hutchings remembers when she was in the seventh grade and cheered from the stands as the Wildcats had a dream season that was capped by a Class 1 volleyball state title.
She especially liked to watch Courtney Wesbecher, who used to wear a headband whenever she played.
"One of my favorite players from the  team was Courtney," Hutchings said. "She wore it and I just loved how she stood out from everybody and it just pumped everybody up.
"She was my hero."
Now four years later, Hutchings is the one wearing a headband and standing out among everyone on the court.
Hutchings led her team to a 26-24, 25-17 sweep over Bell City in a Class 1 sectional match and then a 25-12, 23-25, 25-19 victory over Gideon in a quarterfinal match Saturday to help the Wildcats earn their first trip to the state tournament since Wesbecher was wearing blue and white.
Hutchings, who said her team calls her headwear the "ghetto band," had 11 kills, four digs and three blocks against Bell City and then 12 kills, nine blocks, three aces and four digs against Gideon.
After sitting around for about two hours between the sectional and quarterfinal matches, Hutchings came out firing against Gideon. She recorded kills on four of the first six points in the first game for the Wildcats as she created a lot of problems for the Bulldogs' defense.
"Everyone on the team has to keep us alive and keep us together," Hutchings said. "Without the setter and passer I would not have had any kills, so it was all up to them.
"I'm thrilled [about going to states]. We've been hoping for it since the fifth grade."
In the first match against Bell City, Leopold was able to place the ball in all the right spots to prevent the Cubs from passing the ball effectively and setting the ball for their big hitters -- Rachel Spears and Jessica Abner.
"We just didn't play well," Spears said. "I don't have a reason. We had a couple of real good hits but we didn't play well at all."
Bell City coach Erin Hoffman said: "We just did not get into our passing game at all. We're just used to a better passing game which allows us a better offensive game."
Hutchings said her team watched video of the match it played against Bell City about a month ago when the Cubs swept the Wildcats.
"We learned where their defense was and where their holes were and we took advantage of it," Hutchings said.
Leopold coach Sandy Davis said after watching the film on the Cubs, her team then went out and practiced being quick, passing and hitting aggressively.
Davis added that she was a little nervous about the two-hour layoff between an emotional win against Bell City and the match with Gideon.
"Our momentum was flying high," Davis said. "To sit for that long does take it out of you, but we went into the locker room, we talked about it and we came out really strong in the first game."
Hutchings proved that the break did not take away any momentum with her four big kills in the early going to help Leopold to an early 6-1 advantage.
The Wildcats' hitting proved too difficult for the Bulldogs. Combined with Hutchings' powerful right-handed hitting was the powerful left-handed hitting of Casey Bucher, who had nine kills against Gideon. Cassi Jansen also added 11 kills in the final match.
The Wildcats were able to set up the strong hitting with nice passing and sets. Cassie Seiler had 20 assists against the Cubs and then 40 assists against the Bulldogs.
"I pretty much know no matter where I set it, they're going to do a wonderful job," Seiler said. "A lot of teams have one hitter that they always go to. I have like six. [Hutchings] is definitely a huge part of our team. So is everyone else. But she's always someone I know will always be there."