Girls spikers toppled by DSHA

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Rob Reischel
Middleton's Jordan LaScala hits around a pair of DSHA players during the Cardinals' loss to DSHA at state./Photo courtesy of Brian Roebke

GREEN BAY — The four pillars of Middleton’s volleyball program since 2019 sat at a media table inside the Resch Center last Thursday.

And as Middleton head coach Maddie Vogel talked about that group — and her Cardinals — tears started flowing from every angle.

It wasn’t so much that Middleton had just dropped a 25-9, 25-13, 25-18 decision to Divine Savior Holy Angels in the WIAA Division 1 state quarterfinals. It was the fact Vogel — who was flanked by senior stars Jordan LaScala, Evin Jordee and Sierra Pertzborn — had just seen their time together come to an end.

“I’ve known these girls since they were freshmen and it’s been a really cool experience,” Vogel said. “I think they all learned a lot about each other and learned a lot about volleyball. I hope they feel as strongly as I do about the connection that this team has made this year and it’s going to be really hard to see them go.”

It was awfully hard for all the Cardinals to close the book on their brilliant season.

Middleton reached the state tournament for the first time since 2009. The Cardinals went 27-3 overall and won their second straight Big Eight Conference title. And Middleton was led by a group of seven seniors that led a revival of MHS volleyball in recent seasons.

But seventh-seeded Middleton ran into a buzzsaw in second-seeded DSHA.

The Dashers, who went on to win the state tournament, had a brilliant .451 attack percentage and played terrific defense in their three-set sweep of the Cardinals.

“I feel just like we’ve never played in an (arena) like this before with so many lights and fans and just like everything was way different than anything we’ve ever experienced before,” LaScala said. “But I just felt like every set we played better and got more comfortable and played more together.”

LaScala led the Cardinals with 14 kills, while Annika Van Buren and Pertzborn both had five kills. Jordee had a terrific final match with 21 assists, 12 digs and four kills, while senior Eliana Ross also had 10 digs and four assists.

But Middleton’s kill percentage of .115 was roughly one-fourth of the Dashers’ total and the Cardinals couldn't quite match DSHA’s combination of size and skill.

“The teams we’ve played this season weren’t anything like that team,” Pertzborn said.

Pertzborn was right.

DSHA (43-6) won the Greater Metro Conference, arguably the state’s toughest volleyball league. The Dashers won high-level tournaments during the season at Homestead and Brookfield Central. And DSHA entered the state tournament on a 10-match winning streak.

Middleton, on the other hand, carried a 16-match winning streak to state. But Vogel herself admitted the Cardinals strength of schedule left something to be desired.

“We came in expecting a really tough fight and that’s exactly what we got,” Vogel said. “We knew DSHA was a really strong team coming in. Unfortunately, our strength of schedule this season, we hadn't really seen that level of play. So, we did our best to prepare with what we could, but they were a really strong team.”

The Dashers wasted no time flexing their muscles either.

DSHA jumped to a 5-2 lead in the opening set, then used a 7-1 run to grab a 12-3 advantage. Middleton crept back within 14-7, but DSHA used a 6-0 run and surged to a 20-7 lead that largely ended the first set.

The Dashers had 24 first set kills in 28 attempts and no errors to finish with a remarkable kill percentage of .857.

“They run a really quick tempo and they hit high, so that was definitely new,” LaScala said. “And their setter was really hard to read where she was going. So overall, we haven’t had much experience with quick sets, so that was kind of a challenge to get used to.”

Pertzborn said it also took the Cardinals time to adjust to playing in an 8,000-seat arena that had two matches going on simultaneously.

“I think nerves were definitely present,” she said.

Middleton looked like a different team at the start of the second set, though, rolling off three straight points to take a 5-2 lead. Pertzborn and LaScala had kills during that burst and the Dashers had a hitting error.

Middleton still led 7-5 when Pertzborn — who only plays in the front row — rotated to the bench. That left the Cardinals vulnerable in front, and DSHA took advantage.

The Dashers went on a 16-3 run with the 6-foot-3 Pertzborn watching and surged to a 21-10 lead. At one point, DSHA ran off 11 straight points.

And when Pertzborn finally returned, the Cardinals’ hole was simply too deep to crawl out of.

“I think that’s one of the toughest things in volleyball is when you’re stuck in a tough rotation in that serve receive,” Vogel said. “Serve receive is like a highly mental game, so if you get stuck in that, it’s tough to dig yourself out of. It’s a frustrating situation. Their defense was really scrappy. It was tough for us to find holes on the court.”

DSHA coach Caitie Ratkowski said the Dashers’ plan was to pounce when Pertzborn was out.

“We knew that when she was out, we had to score our points, especially when they moved her to the right side in that second set,” Ratkowski said. “Keeping our serve aggressive to keep them out of system was huge.”

Pertzborn, the Big Eight Conference’s Player of the Year, said sitting and watching was tough.

“Against these high-level teams, I want more than anything to play as much I can against them,” Pertzborn said. “I feel like when we’re playing teams with a faster tempo, we kind of match that eventually. Being on the bench thinking I could do something right now was a little bit tough, but I also knew eventually my team would step up.”

Middleton did step up and show great heart in the final set.

DSHA raced to leads of 6-1 and 10-4, but the Cardinals used a 10-3 burst to take a 14-13 lead.

LaScala and junior Haley Stoffregan both had three service points in that run, while Jordee and Van Buren each had two kills.

“I feel like we were playing a lot more loose and together, celebrating everything and having fun,” Jordee said. “And if we did mess up, we didn’t get mad at each other. I felt like there were a lot more smiles and just knowing we were so close with such a good team even when like most teams kind of give up towards the end, I felt like we still pushed really strong.”

Middleton kept pushing. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Dashers simply had too much firepower.

DSHA countered with a 7-2 run and took a 20-16 lead. From there, the closest the Cardinals came was three points.

“I was proud of the fight we put up, especially at the end,” Vogel said. “It would have been easy to fold, especially after losing the first two sets. But we were fighting right until the end of that third set, so I was really happy with that.”

Overall, Vogel was ecstatic with almost everything the Cardinals accomplished this season. That’s why saying goodbye was so hard.

“This was an incredible group of girls,” she said. “They’re going to be really, really hard to replace.”


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