Boys spikers fall at state

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Brian Verganz and Middleton's boys volleyball team lost in the state quarterfinals./Times-Tribune photo by Rob Reischel

MILWAUKEE — If there is a curse surrounding Middleton’s boys volleyball team at the state tournament, it’s going to have to last one more year.

For the fourth straight year and fifth straight state-tournament appearance, Middleton was sent home in the quarterfinal round, falling to a talent-rich Catholic Memorial squad Friday at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, 25-23, 25-27, 25-17, 25-20. The Cardinals finished the season at 30-10.

“For me to complain or whine, there are going to be teams saying, ‘We'd love to go four years in a row,’ ” Middleton coach Ben White said. “It's great we've created a culture and expectation that we're going to state.

“We're a pretty young team and have a lot of pieces that can bring this team back next year. Their goal this year and next year is to play on that last day. We've said that all year we wanted to start on the first day and play on the last day. As I get older and have coached long enough, I know you don't take (getting to state) for granted and just enjoy the moment, because you don't know when you'll be back.”

Middleton showed it was a worthy opponent, clawing its way to a second-set victory after watching an 18-12 lead dissolve into a 21-all tie. Brian Vergenz (12 kills) delivered the kill and the block that allowed the Cardinals to hold on for the win, but CMH was able to pull away in the third set and hit the after-burners in the fourth after Middleton had pulled to within 22-20.

“We didn’t know much about them and really hadn't faced a team of their level in a while,” Memorial right-side hitter Joe Heyrman said. “We hadn't been in many tournaments down the stretch. It was good to get our head together and collect our thoughts. They're a really scrappy team, and we had a hard time just putting the ball down. We really had to re-focus. It was a good reminder; it's good to be battle tested early on in the tournament. Every team here is a great team.”

Memorial relies on the high-velocity swings of outside hitter Ryan Brown (17 kills and middle blocker Zach Engsberg (12), but it was Heyrman (nine) and Dom Coello (10) that made the Crusaders so tough to stop, providing multiple secondary options.

“They run a really fast offense, and the block was hard to find,” said Middleton senior Jack Herder, who finished with two solo blocks and five assists. “And whenever we would send the ball over, their passers would get the ball right to the setter every single time. They could pretty much run whatever, whenever they wanted, and that made it really difficult to keep up with them.”

White, who was able to watch several Catholic Memorial matches on YouTube and formulate a game plan even though the two teams haven’t met this season, said he felt every CMH passer performs at a level of 2 or higher on a 3-point scale.

“Everybody they throw in can pass,” White said. “There's no hole on that team. You have to try to get momentum and get on a run.”

There were brief glimpses of that. A four-point run in the fourth set and a three-point run shortly thereafter gave Middleton an early lead, but the Crusaders put the game in hand with a five-point and six-point spurt to make it 18-12.

While CMH was keeping steady in the back row, its servers were also staying away from Middleton libero Thomas Robson, who finished with a team-best 12 digs.

“I think he’s one of the top passers in the state, and they don’t serve to him,” White said.

Sophomore outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud also added 12 kills, and though the Cardinals will bid farewell to five seniors, several key players return.

Herder and Cole Spitler, the team’s leading attacker, will be among those leaving.

“I've had a back problem all year and didn’t play the first half of the season, and it was really nice to get back and finally help the team out,” Herder said. “It was so exciting being relevant again and getting kills.

“I think we played our hardest and we had a fantastic season. I think we can be proud of ourselves. This is one of the closest teams ever. I'm just going to miss these guys.”

White said the middle block has made strides in 2016.

“To start the year, we were all outside,” White said. “We rode Cole a lot on the outside and then Eagan. It wasn't until the second week of October that the big guy (Herder, who stands 6-7) started blocking everything and Brian would start to get all the hits.

“That was the difference maker for us. We had a middle that could get all the kills in Brian and a middle that could get all the blocks in Jack.”

Junior setter Andrew Lepage finished with 33 digs, and junior Brady Schmitt added 10 digs. Spitler finished with seven kills. Middleton held a 21-20 lead in the first set before surrendering three straight points, and Brown delivered the set-clinching kill with the Crusaders ahead, 24-23.

“We kind of knew what they were doing,” White said of CMH. “We know they're going to 4 (Brown) and 14 (Engsberg) all the time. It's not a big secret what they do. You can't replicate those two in practice to try and slow them down. That's the hard part. Executing a game plan against that much talent is hard.”

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