Girls spikers ousted by Sun Prairie

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MTT News Desk's picture
By: 
Adam Mertz/For the Times-Tribune
Middleton’s girls volleyball team suffered a tough, five-set loss to Sun Prairie in Saturday’s sectional final./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

 

The first set slipped away when they lost the last five points. The second set was a confluence of errors — hitting, service, and mental miscues.

By the time Amber Karn and her Middleton girls volleyball teammates caught their breath last Saturday, they were staring at the very real possibility Sun Prairie would sweep the Cardinals out of their own gym — a giant reality check for a team that had spent the previous day-and-a-half actively recruiting their classmates to come out and cheer them on to a state tournament berth.

“After we lost those first two games,” said Karn, a junior outside hitter, “we got together and said, ‘This is our house. Let's not have any regrets walking off this floor.’ ”

Middleton fulfilled that promise to itself, even as it fell just short of its ultimate goal — the program’s first trip to state since 2009. That's why pride, not sadness, predominated in the wake of a 25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 22-25, 15-12 loss to their Big Eight Conference archrivals in an electric WIAA Division 1 sectional final.

Middleton seized control of the third set with a 6-0 run in large part on setter Breanna Schlueter’s serve, rallied from an eight-point deficit midway through the fourth set thanks to Karn's dominating, seven-point service run and battled to a 12-all tie in the fifth set. Sun Prairie senior Anna Brereton closed out the match, though, with a pair of unreturnable serves.

“I'm sure there were a number of fans who left, thinking it was going to be 3-0. So at least we made a match of it,” said Middleton coach Franco Marcos, whose team gave him a memorable 57th birthday present two days earlier with a sectional semifinal victory at Waunakee. “I'd like to see it (end) on the other side, but it's well deserved. They definitely were the better team tonight.”

Senior outside hitter Mane Bobadilla, Middleton's lone consistent force offensively, finished with 21 kills. Senior libero Leia Peterman generated 26 digs against a balanced Sun Prairie attack led by 6-foot-3 junior middle hitter Molly Livingston (18 kills), while Schlueter added 24 assists and senior right-side hitter Arissa Milton led the way with four blocks.

“What separates us is that we were down two games and we came back as a team. We weren't fighting, we were encouraging each other,” Peterman said. “These girls are amazing. It's sad to know it's over, but I'm so proud of this team.”

Given the teams’ familiarity with each other — Middleton (33-15) had won two of the first three meetings, but Sun Prairie (43-5) won the regular-season conference meeting in five sets and carried the sectional's top seed — both figured on another barnburner.

“I have a ton of respect for Middleton,” Sun Prairie coach T.J. Rantala said. “We knew it would be a battle, and that's why I told my team to focus on one point at a time, no matter what the score was.”

The first set lived up to that billing, with nine ties and seven lead changes. Middleton claimed a 22-20 edge on a Sun Prairie net violation, but didn't score again.

Middleton wasted a great dig by sophomore Logan Welti on its serve on the next point, putting Sun Prairie in its most desired rotation, with Livingston and senior outside hitter Emily Chaussee up front. Senior defensive specialist Kaitlyn Schmidt served out the set, with Chaussee — a Division I recruit for High Point (N.C.) — sandwiching a tip and a kill down the left side around a blast from Livingston to take a 24-22 lead, and Schmidt forcing a receiving error on the final point.

“We made a lot of unforced errors, and unforced errors against a good team will kill you,” Marcos said. “We didn't take care of the ball well in the beginning—especially that first set, which was anybody's set. That was there for us to win.”

Not so in the second. Sun Prairie stormed to a 21-13 lead despite two timeouts by Marcos to attempt to stem the tide. Junior Morgan Schmitt gave Middleton some life with a three-point service run to draw within 22-18. But the rally was snuffed when Middleton botched an overpass opportunity.

In the second set, Middleton committed 10 hitting errors, three service errors, had three defensive miscommunications that resulted in points and committed three point violations. Meanwhile, Sun Prairie was making it look easy.

“We played a flawless set,” Rantala said. “And I thought we were on top of it in the third (set) as well, but then we started to make errors. That's killed us all season—we do a heck of a job beating ourselves.”

Bobadilla lit the fuse for Middleton early in the third set, finding her groove offensively with three straight kills for a 7-6 lead. After Sun Prairie regained the lead at 10-9, Middleton won 11 of the next 13 points to take a 20-12 advantage. Schlueter kicked off a five-point service run by rolling one over the net cord, and during that span Milton had two blocks and a booming kill that ricocheted into the stands.

Sun Prairie collapsed late with a pair of hitting errors, a service error, and a lift violation, but quickly regrouped to play its best stretch of the match in opening a 16-8 lead in the fourth set. And when junior middle hitter Tierney Lindner smacked a cross-court kill from the left side, Sun Prairie held a 20-13 advantage and Middleton again appeared dead in the water.

But a Sun Prairie service error sent Livingston to the bench on a rotation, and Karn's surgical serving strikes kept her there. With Karn keeping the ball away from Brereton, a talented libero who's headed to Northern Illinois, Middleton notched eight straight points, the last on an ace, to take a 21-20 lead en route to claiming the set.

“That was amazing,” Peterman said of Karn's serving prowess. “She's the one who brought us back into the match.”

Middleton fell behind 7-3 in the deciding set, but Milton registered two more blocks and a kill to forge an 8-8 tie. The teams deadlocked three more times before Lindner delivered a go-ahead kill to give Sun Prairie a 13-12 edge and Brereton served out.

“We totally could've given up, but instead we gave it our all,” Karn said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of. We need to keep our heads up and be proud of what we've done.”

 

Sun Prairie ……………….. 25 25 21 22 15

Middleton ………………… 22 19 25 25 12

Middleton: Kills – Mane Bobadilla 21. Blocks – Arissa Milton 4. Digs – Leia Peterman 26. Aces – Amber Karn 3. Assists – Breanna Schlueter 24.

Sun Prairie: Kills – Molly Livingston 18. Blocks – Tierney Lindner 4. Digs – Anna Brereton 27. Aces – Brereton 3, Keely Brown 3, Emily Chaussee 3. Assists – Amber Stieren 27.

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