Boys spikers headed back to state

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MTT News's picture
Adam Hatlan/For the Times-Tribune
Middleton's boys volleyball team reached the state tournament for a sixth straight year./Photo submitted

Middleton’s boys’ volleyball team has done it again, and this time they did it in dramatic fashion. 

For the sixth year in a row and the 11th time in school history, the Cardinals are headed to the WIAA Division 1 state volleyball tournament at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee.

Top-seeded Middleton rallied from a 2-1 deficit and notched a thrilling, 25-16, 19-25, 21-25, 25-21,15-8 win over third-seeded Kettle Moraine in a sectional final held last Thursday at Madison Memorial High School.

Middleton is just the third team in Wisconsin history to make it to the state boys volleyball tournament six consecutive years. Waukesha (1950-1961) and Marquette University High School (2002-2018) are the others.

The Cardinals’ 11th state appearance is now tied for the fifth-most appearances in state history.

“It was one of those nights where sometimes a coach gets lucky and pushes all the right buttons, and tonight I think we pushed all the right buttons,” said Middleton coach Ben White. “We haven’t been pushed like this in a couple of weeks. It took us too long to respond when we were down, and I also think our nerves showed. We just kept the constant message of ‘play your game and relax.’ ” 

Prior to Middleton’s match against Kettle Moraine, it hadn’t lost a set in the 2018 playoffs, which included 3-0 wins over Waukesha North in a regional final and over Madison West in a sectional semifinal.

But Kettle Moraine was a team on the rise that had knocked off second-seeded Madison Memorial in the sectional semifinals and had its sights set on bouncing the Cardinals, as well.

“I’ve coached long enough against Kettle Moraine to know that they are going to be a heck of a lot better in November than they are in September,” White said. “You know they are going to be scrappy, they’re not going to let the ball hit the floor, they’re going to put pressure on you serving — and they really did that. I think their serving is a big reason why this went five sets tonight.”

Middleton was strong at the net offensively, as junior outside hitter Parker Van Buren led the Cardinals with 23 kills. Senior outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud added 22 kills.

Van Buren was dominant for Middleton, particularly in the fourth and fifth sets. He admitted he started slow, then kicked it up a notch in crunch time. 

“I was getting pretty down when we were down two-to-one,” Van Buren said. “I was really struggling. We just brought it back as a team. We started blocking way better and coach changed up our lineup, which really helped.”

Middleton cruised to a first-set win, 25-16. The Cardinals finished the set with an ace from setter Nick Stott as the entire Kettle Moraine team watched the ball hit the floor.

With Middleton leading 16-14 in the second set, Kettle Moraine went on a 5-0 run to take a 19-16 lead and force a Middleton timeout. That didn't fix what ailed the Cardinals, though, as the Lasers finished off the set, 25-19.

The third set was much of the same for Kettle Moraine, as it was able to take advantage of many Cardinal miscues. Middleton made it close, but the Lasers were able to maintain their lead the entire set and capture a 25-21 win.

Kettle Moraine senior outside hitter Joe Freeman was nearly unstoppable, seemingly giving the Lasers a point every time he touched the ball.

“Freeman was so consistent, just a phenomenal player,” White said. “He was overpowering when he needed to be overpowering and you could probably count on one hand the number of errors he had tonight. He looked great.”

Middleton trailed 8-4 in the fourth set, as Kettle Moraine looked more and more like a team that would be headed to state. White called timeout to calm his team and regroup.

Middleton then went on a 16-10 run to swing the set, go up 20-18 and force a Laser timeout. The Cardinals slowly pulled away from there and notched a 25-21 win.

“The timeout at 8-4 was to remind the guys to just relax and remind Parker that he’s the best player in the gym,” White said. “Another big thing was the guys had the mentality of not letting the ball hit the floor. That’s what happened the rest of the way.”

Middleton roared out of the gate in the deciding fifth set, taking the first three points and eventually grabbing a 7-1 lead. The Lasers crept as close as 12-8, but led by Van Buren up front, the Cardinals were able to finish off a 15-8 win.

Senior setter Matt Ballweg added 53 assists, while Stott had two aces. Senior libero Dylan Griffith had 23 digs and senior middle hitter Owen Engling with three blocks.  

Van Buren had at least five of his kills in the fifth set, including the emphatic final one that ended the match.

“From struggling at the beginning to coming out and ending it like that ... I’m just so happy,” Van Buren said. “The (last) hit felt good. I actually thought it was out for a second because my view was blocked, but I saw the flag go down and … just so happy.”

For now, the Cardinals can celebrate the win. Despite all the previous state appearances, they hope to bring home their very first state title in the sport.

“Our team has to work on starting strong,” Van Buren said. “We started fairly strong tonight, but in the middle we acted like we were going to win, and we can’t do that. After the first game tonight we fell dormant; we really have to work on not doing that.”

White knows his team has the talent to compete at state.

“Tonight was a great match to prep us for state,” White said. “I think the biggest thing is we just proved we can come back. Being down two-to-one and then eight-to-four, and being able to ride that momentum, just constantly playing with that energy.”

“Our defense will be key. We’ll spend a lot of time working on our defense. We can put on a show in hit lines, but defense is going to win it for us.”


MID ………….. 25  19  21  25  15

KM ……….…. 16   25  25  21  8

Middleton leaders:

Kills — Van Buren 23. Assists — Ballweg 53. Digs — Griffith 23. Aces — Stott 2. Blocks — Engling 3.



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