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Schulz goes down, then Comets
Albany senior Sydney Bump tries to send a placement shot beyond the out-stretched hands of Black Hawk freshman Jen Wellnitz late in the fourth game of Fridays WIAA Division 4 regional semifinal match.
ALBANY - In sports, there are winners and losers. On some nights, that barrier is hard to tell, and on others, it's very easy. Friday night's dogfight between the Black Hawk Warriors and the Albany Comets had a clear winner - Black Hawk in four games. Albany, however, had more than its banner season come to an end - the Comets got a scare in the process.

In the middle of Game 2, with Albany trailing 14-12, Comet senior Kaitlyn Schulz dove to try to save a pass that went array when she fell hard to the floor, hitting her forehead and slamming her arm into the wood.

"Her arm kind of broke her fall, but she still smacked her forehead," Albany head coach Connie Wunschel said. "Her arm went numb, so she took a stinger. She took a concussion. That was a concussion - she blacked out."

Schulz was in a bad car accident just two years ago, so the coaching staff and Albany administration took their time helping the fallen senior up off the floor.

"We were wondering if we should get her off the court, but we didn't want to move her and have her get sick. If she throws up, it's more of a problem and we didn't want to rush her if she had any neck trauma," Wunschel said. "We wanted her to take her time."

After 25 minutes of waiting for Schulz to be taken off the floor, both teams had a chance to warm up before taking the court again. When the two squads did restart play, it was the Comets that found their groove.

"When Kaitlyn left it was a huge downfall," said Albany senior Hillary Best. "We needed her. We tried to do everything we could and make up for her loss, but we couldn't."

Best likened the play to the Aug. 31 season opener in which Best had to leave mid-match because of an ankle injury.

"It was almost the exact same situation. We wanted to do this for her," Best said. "But obviously we wanted her health to be the No. 1 thing. We didn't want to see her go out with a concussion or anything. She was wobbling sitting down and it was amazing to see her stand up. I was surprised she stayed for the whole game."

The Comets, who lost the first set 25-22, stormed back to take a 21-20 lead, bringing the crowd to their feet. Moments later, Albany celebrated tying the match-score with a 28-26 triumph in the second game, with Schulz watching from the corner in a wheelchair.

"We weren't the team to beat at that point. But the injury was the killer. We were OK for a little bit, but then reality set in," said Wunschel, saying that the lack of depth made it hard to figure out a rotation. "We had our chances. We really did. I thought we played as well as we could have at that point."

Albany jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the third game and led 14-10 when Black Hawk awoke.

"For a time (the injury) changed the momentum to their side," Warriors head coach Rachel Wolff said. "I think it took a little while for us to regroup. It was a serious injury and you never want to see that.

"It took a little bit, but we found our focus and starting hitting the ball and passing a little better."

Black Hawk went on a 15-1 run to close out the set, including a final 9-0 with Abby Schiferl on the serve. The entire time the Warriors were streaking, the Comets were down to just two net players, one of which - Six Rivers East player of the year Sydney Bump) - was in the back row.

"We were second guessing ourselves. People were asking where they were supposed to be and how they were supposed to play a ball. We were all out of sorts," Wunschel said. "That's not how we've played all year."

Both teams gutted it out in Game 3, but it was Black Hawk freshman Jen Wellnitz that took over at the net, in front of Bump.

"It's fun to watch her (Wellnitz) because she is such a competitor. And it was fun to watch the competition between those two," Wolff said.

Playing in her first organized season of volleyball, Wellnitz has three sisters with varsity volleyball experience help her out.

"Without them I would probably be lost," said Wellnitz, who had eight kills, four tip kills and four blocks. "I think I've gotten a lot better. I didn't understand the game at all coming in and now I've got a good grasp."

Rachel Rygh had 17 kills and 13 digs for the Warriors and teammate Kate Quinn had eight kills and two blocks. Bump led Albany with 26 kills, 32 digs and two blocks. Best had 13 kills, 17 digs and four blocks.

Now comes an even tougher test for Black Hawk - defending state champion Burlington Catholic Central today.

"I want to take them down hard if we can," Wellnitz said.

For Albany, a team with just eight players (five seniors), the season comes to a close.

"I'm hoping the girls remember the good times and how well we played all year," Wunschel said. "We are the first Albany team to win conference. And then to do it undefeated, that is just phenomenal. It just speaks to how much work they put in."