Boys spikers fight through adversity

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
James Caldwell (6) led Middleton's boys volleyball team to a second place finish at last Saturday's Wauwatosa East Invite./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Adversity is something that strikes every team in every sport.

The great ones find a way to battle through various difficulties. The others fade to black.

Middleton’s boys volleyball team was struck with more misfortune last week than most teams encounter. The Cardinals learned standout senior outside hitter Nolan Schoonveld would be lost for the year with a knee injury.

But Middleton refused to feel sorry for itself. The Cardinals rolled past Madison La Follette last Tuesday, then had an extremely impressive second place finish at the Wauwatosa East Invite last Saturday.

“I can’t wait to see what these guys can do for the rest of the year,” Middleton coach Ben White said. “We had a couple of guys completely new to playing and they more than held their own. 

“As I told some of the parents after the matches on Saturday, just wait until we actually figure out how to play. Guys did so well on guts and determination. They aren’t going to let their captain, Nolan, down this year. That I can guarantee.”

Middleton opened with a 25-23, 25-21 win over 14th-ranked Nicolet at the Wauwatosa East Invite.

Middleton rode the hot hand of senior outside hitter James Caldwell throughout the match. Blake Sprecher, Jordan Futch, Andrew Gardner and Pace Balster all had strong matches, as did senior setter Derek Kalvin and freshman libero Thomas Robson.

“Our goal for the weekend was to advance into the gold pool and to do that we knew we’d have to play a very smart and balanced Nicolet team,” White said. “We had a big size advantage on them, but we knew they were going to keep the ball in play. I was again impressed with our balance.”

Middleton followed that with a 25-22, 25-17 win over Racine Park.

“It was definitely an ugly match, as we played probably our worst volleyball of the year right after playing some of our better volleyball,” White said. “I don’t know how we were able to survive, but we did and that moved us to the Gold Bracket.”

There, Middleton faced 10th-ranked Wauwatosa East — a program that’s consistently one of the state’s elite. But the Cardinals posted an extremely impressive 25-19, 25-23 win.

Caldwell had a huge match with 17 kills and just four errors. Middleton also had just eight hitting errors in the entire match and had a stellar .350 hitting percentage.

“These games were intense and battles,” White said. “Our defense was outstanding. 

“There was no secret to the offense we were going to run. We were going to get James the ball and see if they could stop him. They couldn’t. It was very impressive. 

“Wauwatosa East would constantly call out where James was and just yell, ‘They are going to No. 6.’ It didn’t matter. James had his way in this match.”

That vaulted the Cardinals into the title match, where they fell to No. 3 Racine Horlick, 23-25, 27-25, 20-18.

Middleton trailed Game 1, 12-5. But the Cardinals rallied back and pulled out a thrilling win.

Neither team led by more than three points in Game 2, but Horlick prevailed. Then in Game 3, the teams were tied, 18-18, before Horlick scored the final two points to claim the title.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time now – 14 years – and I’ll say this was one of the most fun matches I have coached in,” White said. “This was an absolute slugfest.

“Maybe as the year moves along we’ll learn that we can tip and roll shots a little more to make a team play defense, but on Saturday it was big boy against big boy. I couldn’t be more proud of how the team played.”

Caldwell had one of the best days you’ll ever see, finishing with 60 kills, 18 digs, four blocks and two aces.

“When we got to ‘Tosa East, I looked at James and said, ‘Your goal for today is 50 kills,’ ” White said. “He smiled and said okay. I don’t know if he thought I was serious or not, but I was. James is a special player and he proved that on Saturday.” 

Kalvin had 86 assists on the day, while Futch had 13 kills and Sprecher had 12 kills and four blocks.

Robson had 34 digs, Ben Hershberger and Kevin McMahon both had two aces, and Balster had four blocks.

“What I didn’t know was going to happen was that our defense was going to rise to the challenge and a bunch of guys with very little experience were going to improve rapidly,” White said.

Middleton also cruised past Madison La Follette, 25-9, 25-20, 25-13.

Caldwell had 15 kills, 10 digs, four blocks and two aces. Kalvin added 15 assists and Robson had 10 digs.

“We went into the match knowing we were going to use a different line-up each game,” White said. “I feel bad for the team that scouted us that night because we wanted to give everyone a chance and move people around. 

“For the most part we handle the challenge well. We didn’t have a great flow, but some guys did very well.”

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