Boys spikers fall in state quarters

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Dave Lubach/For the Times-Tribune
Andrew Lepage (left) and Brian Verganz helped Middleton's boys volleyball team to the state quarterfinals./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MILWAUKEE — Middleton’s boys volleyball team set a goal of "Play on Saturday" for the 2017 season. 

And though the Cardinals came up a match short of reaching that plateau last Friday at the WIAA boys state volleyball tournament, the crop of departing seniors vow to do what they can to help next year's team attain that elusive level.

“What coach said after the match is our seniors from last year, there were four of them in the crowd (Friday),” said senior libero and captain Thomas Robson, a four-year varsity player. “The seniors will be on the underclassmen. We've built that kind of program and we're always going to help each other get to the next level. That's what these seniors will do.”

Robson's senior season ended with a 3-0 sweep by third-seeded Kaukauna by scores of 25-22, 25-16, 25-20. The loss continued a frustrating run at Wisconsin Lutheran College for the Cardinals (33-7), who suffered their fifth straight ouster in the quarterfinals. 

In 10 appearances at state, the Cardinals have an all-time record of 2-10, with their last win coming in 2008. Middleton arrived this year optimistic about ending that losing streak, but never could get over the hump against the Ghosts (29-7), who advanced to the title match before falling 3-0 to Milwaukee Marquette.

Kaukauna's forward tandem of Ben Brochtrup and Austyn Bella dominated play at the net, combining for 26 kills, while Middleton recorded just one block all night. Casey McKean led Middleton with 10 kills, Brian Vergenz had nine and Eagan Peters-Michaud had eight.

“We wanted to attack the middle,” said Middleton coach Ben White. “To be able to do that you have to be able to pass. High school volleyball is pretty simple. It's a serving, passing game and they served tougher than we did, and kept us out of our offense.”

Trailing 2-0 in sets, Middleton rallied in the third set to take an 18-17 lead before things started slipping away. In the closing stages of the match, Robson — who had 13 digs — gathered the seniors for one last meeting.

“Probably at last point of the match when it was 24-20, I just pulled some of the seniors in on the court and said, ‘Take this all in, these last couple points and play your hardest and look around,’ ” Robson said. “It was an amazing atmosphere.”

The loss left White having to address another dejected locker room following a run the team didn't want to see end yet.

“It's hard to go in there and have the same talk you've had the past years. Thomas (Robson) is probably going to be sick of hearing me say the same thing,” said White, who has 378 victories in 17 seasons at Middleton. “But Thomas is the winningest player in school history. This year we set the school record for most wins in a season (33), so you've got to be pretty proud of that. 

“We can't be too disappointed about everything we did this year, but as a senior it's the finality of it. There's no 'lets go back to practice tomorrow and fix things.' It's done.”

While the disappointment lingered, White and his players already were finding silver linings in what was an otherwise astounding season. The Cardinals set the school record for most wins in a season, won another Big Eight Conference championship and claimed elite tournament titles in Racine and at Wauwatosa East.

“You've got to look at the positives,” White said. “This senior class had a heck of a career and they keep setting the bar higher.”

Senior setter Andrew Lepage, who finished the match with 32 assists and was a three-year starter who shared captaincy with Robson and senior Carson Blair, also chose to look at the bigger picture.

“We talked about how one match doesn't define our season,” Lepage said. “It was a good run. We did what we could to get here. We just didn't win.”


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