WAUZEKA – For the Benton volleyball team this season, it was state or bust. The Zephyrs did not bust.
Benton earned the program’s first-ever state appearance with authority after sweeping the Bangor Cardinals, 30-28, 25-23, 25-19, in a WIAA Division 4 sectional championship match held at Wauzeka-Steuben High School on Saturday, Oct. 28.
“What a great feeling. I’m speechless. This was a goal the girls had. These girls prevailed and came through some obstacles and struggles, and now we are headed to state,” said Benton head coach Russell Hamm. “I’m just ecstatic for this program, for this school and for this community. It’s the first time for the volleyball team to get to state. I’m so proud to be their coach and to be part of this with them.”
Benton (27-2 overall) will face Lourdes Academy (35-9) in a state semifinal match at the Resch Center in Green Bay on Friday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m. The Knights, who were the D3 runner-ups a season ago, are making their third straight state appearance.
The winner advances to face the winner of Friday’s other semifinal match between four-time defending D4 champion Newman Catholic (29-11) and Clayton (30-2). In last year’s state championship match, the Fighting Cardinals, who are making their seventh straight state appearance, swept the Bears, who are at state for the fifth straight state trip, for the title.
“Earlier in the season, we took a couple of hits, and I told the girls that it was a good time to get (tested). We knew there were extenuating circumstances. We looked at the path to get to Green Bay and we knew we had an opportunity,” Hamm remarked.
Benton earned its spot among the state’s elite by knocking off Bangor (28-7) in straight sets last Saturday night.
The Zephyrs outlasted the Cardinals, 30-28, in a wild back-and-forth affair in set one. After a missed serve gave Benton a 29-28 lead, the Cards had a hitting error on the next points to hand the Zephyrs a 1-0 advantage.
“There were a lot of nerves out there. We had a lot of errors that helped them along. I’m not saying they didn’t have any, but I felt we had more. All we had to do was buckle down and make some plays at the end. We finally did to pull it out,” said Hamm.
The Zephyrs won another tight decision in set two, 25-23, on a well-place pushed kill by senior middle hitter Emma Lawrence for the game-winner.
Lawrence, who finished the match with team high in kills (26) and blocks (5), tallied 11 kills and two blocks in the third set to lead the Zephyrs out to a 21-12 lead. The Cardinals cut the deficit back to five at 24-19 until senior setter Kelsie Goffinet used a perfectly timed tip kill to close out the set and the match and kick of Benton’s state celebration.
“There was a quote made to a paper about (Bangor) wanting to get revenge on Seneca, but Seneca was not here because of us. If people believed they could look past us, then this is what we’ve done. I felt we were getting looked past,” state Hamm, whose team dropped just one tournament set on the way to state.
Junior middle hitter Sophie Dougherty smashed 16 kills for the Zephyrs, while twin sister Maggie Dougherty added six kills and Goffinet served up a team-high two aces.
“I can’t say enough about what Sophie did. She stepped up again and again with play after play. We had two powerhouse’s match-up with Emma (Lawrence) and Bangor’s 6-3 Emma Wittmershaus going back and forth with one another. Sophie stepped up and Bangor was like what’s going on here. Nobody expects that to happen, but we have girls that can do that.
I’m proud of them for stepping up and being teammates the team can count on,” boasted Hamm. “We knew what (Bangor) could do with their size. Kelsie did her best to set the ball off the net. We were able to start covering on the plays at the net. We were making the second and third effort, and that was a game-changer for us.”
The Zephyrs advanced to Saturday’s match by exorcising some past demons by sweeping Seneca in a sectional semifinal match at Belmont High School on Thursday, Oct. 26.
The Indians defeated the Zephyrs during their run to state a year ago, but Benton turned the tables on the Indians this year with a dominating all-around team performance.
“There was a lot of drive to get back at them from last year. Many of these girls came back, but five seniors didn’t. They wanted it as much for them as they wanted it for themselves,” commented Hamm. “We really stepped up our game. We had the drive to beat them. They didn’t have an answer for anything we did. They struggled, but I think it was because of what we were doing more than anything else. I was very proud of these girls.”
The Zephyrs grabbed the lead early in set one and raced to a 1-0 advantage with a 25-15 win, and then jumped ahead 11-3 in set two to put the Indians back on their heels. Seneca got back within two at 23-21, but a net violation brought Benton to set-point and S. Dougherty served up an ace to secure a 25-21 win.
A four-point service run by M. Dougherty opened up a 16-11 lead for the Zephyrs in set three, and the sisters combined for five kills during an 8-2 final run as Benton locked up the set and the match with a 25-17 win.
Lawrence tallied 18 kills, 18 digs and six blocks to lead the way. Goffinet handed out 39 assists along with 13 digs and four blocks, while S. Dougherty chipped in with 14 kills and four blocks and M. Dougherty added 12 digs and three aces.
WIAA D4 SECTIONAL FINAL
Bangor…………… 28 23 19
Benton…………… 30 25 25
Benton Leaders– Kills: Emma Lawrence 26, Sophie Dougherty 16. Blocks: Lawrence 5. Assists: na. Aces: Kelsie Goffinet 2. Digs: na.
At Wauzeka on Saturday, Oct. 28
WIAA D4 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL
Benton…………… 25 25 25
Seneca…………… 15 21 17
Benton Leaders– Kills: Emma Lawrence 18, Sophie Dougherty 14. Blocks: Lawrence 6, S. Dougherty 4, Kelsie Goffinet 4. Assists: Goffinet 39. Aces: Maggie Dougherty 3. Digs: Lawrence 18, Lydia Jones 14, Goffinet 13, M. Dougherty 12.
At Belmont on Thursday, Oct. 26