Tika (Klauck) Nichols' stats don't jump out at you.
She had one kill and one dig in the Central Lakes College Raiders 70-minute, 3-game sweep of the Rainy River Voyageurs on Wednesday. But the sophomore's contributions are immeasurable.
The role player is one reason why CLC has won three straight matches and has moved ahead of the Voyageurs in the Northern Division standings.
"Every time this year when she's been put in she's been like this difference-maker," CLC coach Jane Peterson said. "Not with a big pounding kill, she just calls a ball out that's out by an inch, she makes one good dig. I don't know if someone else would make that. It's not technically very correct but it's just a big play from her gut.
"No one else will notice her, other teams won't. This team notices her, listens to what she says. There's something about when she's on the court that makes us a little more settled down.
"It's an intangible thing you can't pinpoint. If you lined up and tried to rate our hitters in order she wouldn't be at the top. If you tried to rate our passers in order she wouldn't be at the top, but so what? Sometimes a person can just make a play."
Nichols said her role is to play wherever and whenever Peterson puts her in the lineup.
"She can put me right, left, middle, wherever, she could have me set for all I know," Nichols said. "She's going to put me in, I'm going to play and I'm going to try my very best."
Nichols was married Aug. 22 and is still adjusting to having a different last name.
"Every time I go back to serve (and the announcer says) 'Nichols to serve' I smile a little bit," she said, "then it's like, 'OK, I need to focus' but it's good."
CLC improved to 5-2 in the division, 9-5 overall, with its third straight win.
"I think it was a wakeup call losing," Klauck said. "We're just trying to get more drive, working harder in practice. We're just coming to the realization that every ball is another step closer, every point is important. It's not being apathetic toward the game, that it's just like volleyball, whatever."
CLC 3, Rainy River 0
The key: The Raiders' blocking stifled the Voyageurs.
Division: CLC 5-2, RR 4-2
Overall: CLC 9-5, RR 10-5
Next: Hibbing at CLC 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Rainy River entered the contest with the division's leading hitter, Britt Finnson, and the top two in ace serves average per game, Sam Alberts and Cally Tinkess. But the Raiders neutralized all three.
"I believe I will just quote (coach) Mike Turnbull from Hibbing and say that we are the best blocking team in this conference," Peterson said. "We have the best chance to touch the ball of anybody. We haven't seen them, they haven't seen us. I'm sure (Finnson) is used to just swinging away. If you're not used to being blocked it's a little demoralizing, it makes you wonder."
Peterson credited Raiders like Kaitlyn Roerick and Elora Meisner for blocking the Voyageurs. Meisner started the match with a block.
"It was a big stuff in the middle," Peterson said. "We've talked about it almost every day. We practice blocking, pressing our hands over the net, not just touching it but blocking it and the very first play of the game we did that.
"That sets a great tone, like 'Don't even just try to swing, we're going to stuff you.' Just one play can get in their heads."
Rachel Pfeffer had 28 set assists and 10 digs, Erica Feldewerd had 13 kills and 10 digs, Meisner had four blocks and Krystle Hamilton added 10 digs to lead the Raiders.
Rainy River 19 18 20
Central Lakes 25 25 25
Kaitlyn Roerick (17) watched as teammate Rachel Pfeffer dove and managed to save the ball Wednesday during Central Lakes College's match against the Rainy River Voyageurs. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Kayla Atkinson 1 kill, 4 digs
Rachel Pfeffer 3 kills, 28 set assists, 1 ace, 10 digs, 1 block
Erica Feldewerd 13 kills, 10 digs, 1 block
Katie Amundson 1 dig
Elora Meisner 3 kills, 4 blocks
Jenna Terhaar 6 kills, 2 digs, 1 block
Tika Nichols 1 kill, 1 dig
Kirstie Grill 6 kills, 2 digs, 2 blocks
Christine Malm 5 digs
Krystle Hamilton 2 aces, 10 digs, 1 block
Kaitlyn Roerick 5 kills, 3 set assists, 2 blocks
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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