Boys spikers fall in state quarters

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Parker Van Buren and Middleton's boys volleyball team lost in the state quarterfinals./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MILWAUKEE — The WIAA boys state volleyball tournament moves from Wisconsin Lutheran College to the Resch Center in Green Bay next year.

Middleton, for one, can’t wait.

The Cardinals reached the state tournament for a sixth consecutive season — the second-longest streak in the state. But for the sixth straight time, Middleton was ousted in the first round.

Kenosha Indian Trail rallied from a 2-1 deficit and upset the Cardinals, 25-22, 23-25, 23-25, 26-24, 15-9, last Friday. Middleton finished its stellar season 35-6 overall, but like its recent trips to state, also exited with a hollow feeling.

“I’d say we had a lot of confidence coming in,” Middleton junior outside hitter Parker Van Buren said. “I had a lot of confidence that we were going to win this game and advance to at least the semifinals. So that’s very frustrating.”

Middleton coach Ben White agreed.

“It’s disappointing. It’s disappointing that we can’t get over this hump,” White said. “We thought we had them prepared. Indian Trail didn’t do anything we didn’t know they were going to do. We talked all week about how big they were and how they were going to block. They did everything we thought they were going to do … and we made a lot of silly, silly mistakes.”

This quarterfinal loss stung more than others.

Middleton received the No. 3 seed, its highest ranking ever. The Cardinals had also defeated Indian Trail at the Middleton round robin on Oct. 13.

If ever there was a year Middleton seemed poised to snap its opening round curse, this was it.

“I thought this was our chance,” senior setter Matt Ballweg said. “This is the highest we’ve ever been seeded. I thought we had a favorable matchup, too. It just didn't go our way.”

There were two areas the Hawks got the better of the Cardinals.

Indian Trail had 22 blocks to just eight for the Cardinals. The Hawks’ ability to stymie Middleton at the net led to the Cardinals having an unusually low kill percentage of just .122.

Indian Trail also got stronger as the match went along, while the Cardinals struggled. Over the final two sets — both won by the Hawks — Indian Trail had a .291 kill percentage, while Middleton’s was just .055.

Van Buren led the Cardinals with 22 kills, but his .125 kill percentage was substantially lower than his season-average of .396. Senior middle blocker Owen Engling had a strong game with 12 kills and a .267 kill percentage, while Ballweg had 46 assists, senior libero Dylan Griffith had 17 digs and senior outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud added 16 digs.

“There was no point tonight where I thought we played well,” White said. “But a lot of that had to do with Indian Trail putting up a giant block and taking away the confidence of our guys. You’ve got to give them a ton of credit. They blocked a ton of balls, kept the ball in play and waited until we made a mistake. Those are the teams that have given us problems all year.”

Despite struggling at times early, Middleton appeared poised to end its frustrating slide at state.

There were eight ties and three lead changes in the second set. But with the set knotted, 23-23, Cardinals senior middle blocker Sam Dettman had a huge kill to give Middleton a sideout. Then with Matthew Stormer serving, Van Buren hammered home set point to even the match, 1-1.

Indian Trail built a four-point lead on two occasions in the third set, the last coming at 14-10. But the Cardinals erupted on a 6-1 run — highlighted by a pair of Peters-Michaud kills — to take a 20-18 lead.

The Hawks forged ties at both 22-22 and 23-23. But a Van Buren kill gave Middleton possession, and with Griffith serving, Indian Trail was called for a double hit that gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

“I think there were times we were playing really well and times we just weren’t playing our best,” Ballweg said. “But we felt pretty good when it was 2-1.”

Middleton trailed 20-17 in the fourth set when it used a 4-0 surge to grab a 21-20 lead. And for a moment, White thought his Cardinals had the Hawks right where they wanted.

“I thought we had it,” White said. “I really did.”

Not quite.

Indian Trail responded with three straight points to go ahead, 23-21. And after Middleton fought back to tie things, 24-24, the Hawks got back-to-back block kills from dynamic middle blocker Edelmar Rivera to force a deciding fifth set.

There, the teams were tied 2-2 early when the Hawks embarked on a 9-1 run to take control, 11-3. During that stretch, the Cardinals’ frustration grew as they saw their hopes slipping away.

“I think our frustration started to show at that time,” White said. “That was probably the first time I’ve seen all year where we kind of looked at each other, a little bit of yelling like, ‘What are we doing?’ And that was the first time this year I really saw a crack in the armor.”

Van Buren agreed.

“They just played really well those last two sets,” he said. “I don't know if I can out my finger on anything. There were just a bunch of errors on our part and they made some good plays.”

Middleton countered with a 6-2 run to close within 13-9. But the early deficit was just too steep and the Hawks pulled off the upset.

Despite the loss, the Cardinals enjoyed another memorable year — until they reached state, anyhow.

“I had a lot of fun,” Ballweg said. “It was just fun to be the leader this year and I just really liked all of my teammates. I was proud of what they did.”

Added Van Buren: “This was my favorite year so far. I’m going to miss the seniors so much and it was just super fun.”

Fun seemed to be the key word for everyone involved — until the Indian Trail match, that is.

“It was a lot of fun and that’s why this was so disappointing because this is such a fun group to be around,” White said. “Every day there was a lot of laughter and a lot of fun and we loved ‘em. They were fun to be with and that’s why this hurts so much.”

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