Boys spikers fall at state

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Rob Reischel
Middleton’s boys volleyball team fell to New Berlin United at the state tournament last Friday. Here, Pace Balster (left) and Blake Sprecher team up for a block./Photo courtesy of Robert Squires

MILWAUKEE — Deep down, they knew the odds were long.

Then again, they weren’t exactly favorites most of the season.

Late Friday afternoon, though, the clock struck 12 for a Middleton boys volleyball team that had bucked the probabilities all year long.

New Berlin United and its heavy arsenal was on full display in a 25-22, 25-12, 25-12 win over Middleton in a WIAA state quarterfinal game held at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

United, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, lost the following day to Kettle Moraine in the state semifinals. Middleton finished the year 21-11 overall.

“One match doesn’t define a season,” Middleton coach Ben White said. “And that’s what I told the guys. We can’t let one match define us.

“Only eight teams made it here and no one can ever take that experience away from our guys. They definitely overachieved.”

No one would argue that.

Middleton was dealt an enormous blow when 6-foot-7 middle blocker Jordan Futch was injured before the season began. But the Cardinals did what they always do — they kept winning.

Middleton won its ninth Big Eight Conference title in 10 years and won its 40th straight conference match in the process. The Cardinals then earned a third straight trip to state and their eighth since 2002.

But Middleton ran into a New Berlin team that was simply more skilled and had more weapons. And the degree of United’s domination surprised many.

“That’s not how I saw this going, not at all,” Middleton senior standout blocker Blake Sprecher said afterwards. “I never thought they would be (25-12) better than us. I really thought we had the ability to do it.”

Cardinals senior outside hitter Kevin McMahon agreed.

“We knew that New Berlin was a very good team and that we would have to play a solid game in order to beat them,” McMahon said. “But I didn’t think it would be so lopsided.”

New Berlin had an impressive .270 kill percentage, while the Cardinals kill percentage was -.095. United had 34 kills to Middleton’s 19, and the Cardinals had 26 hitting errors to 14 for New Berlin.

Middleton struggled getting the ball to Sprecher, its most dominant player. United also kept the ball away from Cardinals sophomore libero Thomas Robson, which prevented Middleton from running its offense as smoothly as it hoped.

Sprecher and McMahon led Middleton with six kills each, while sophomore setter Andrew Lepage had 17 assists. But that wasn’t nearly enough.

“I thought we’d win or lose with our passing, and we really struggled with that part of the game,” White said. “That was frustrating.”

Middleton played extremely well early and led throughout most of the first set. An early kill from right-side hitter Pace Balster gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead, and a kill from McMahon helped put Middleton ahead, 6-3.

New Berlin’s first lead came at 13-12 and the set was tied 11 times, the final one coming at 22-all. But United scored the final three points of the set and grabbed a 1-0 lead.

“I think after the first game we lost some of the energy that we played with and they were able to take advantage of that,” McMahon said.

Interestingly, White wasn’t bothered one bit. That’s because the last two times Middleton had been to state, it won the first two sets of a match, only to lose the final three.

“I wasn’t worried,” White said. “With my track record, I was like, ‘Oh we lost the first set.’ We just wanted to hang with them and show the guys we could play with them.”

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that was their best chance.

New Berlin raced to leads of 3-0 and 7-2 in the second set. A pair of McMahon kills helped Middleton close within 8-7, but United answered with a 6-0 run and grabbed a 14-7 lead.

Middleton pulled within 14-9, then New Berlin rolled off eight straight points to take a 22-9 lead and cruised home.

The third set was remarkably similar.

The teams were tied, 8-8, early on when New Berlin went on a crushing 9-0 run that, in essence, sealed the match.

Despite the loss, Middleton left extremely proud of what it accomplished in a year it faced several hurdles.

“We really came together well,” Sprecher said. “We had a lot of guys step up and my game got so much better. It really was a great year.”

McMahon agreed.

“I will remember this year for my coaches and teammates most of all,” he said. “Even though we didn't have a great last game, I still had the opportunity to meet some great people and make some really nice memories with them.”

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