GREEN BAY – When comparing the 2014 and 2015 prep volleyball seasons for the Southwestern Wildcats, the two are remarkably similar, which looking back is really quite impressive.
In 2014, coach Jane Wills and the Wildcats finished second to Cuba City in the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League with a record of 10-2.
They then went on to defeat Pecatonica, Benton and Potosi to win a division 4 regional title, and knocked off River Ridge and Royall to claim a sectional title.
At the state meet in Green Bay last year, the Wildcats defeated Hilbert in their state semifinal match, then lost to Wausau Newman in the state final to bring home the silver ball.
This year, Southwestern shared the SWAL title with the Cubans, both finishing 11-1. In regional play they defeated Belmont, Pecatonica and Benton, and then again knocked off River Ridge and Royall to claim another sectional title.
At the state meet this past Friday and Saturday, coach Jane Wills and the Wildcats defeated Clayton in their state semifinal match, and again lost to Wausau Newman in the division 4 state finals.
In the past five years, coach Jane Wills has led the Wildcats to three state tournament appearances and now brought home the school’s second silver ball.
“There are how many teams in our division, and if you times that by 15, that’s how many dreams that want to get to this point,” said coach Wills. And what is the probability of that? It’s like 0.8 percent for a girl to be able to go to state, and we did it twice.”
“What does that say for us? It’s because we worked hard and believed in ourselves in the offseason,” Wills added. “We worked our tails off and this is what we have again, second place. We have a ball. We’re taking a ball home to our community because we deserve that ball. We deserve that ball,” Wills said.
The Wildcats secured one of two balls on Friday morning with a 3-1 win over Clayton in their division 4 state semifinal match.
The first set in Friday morning’s match was all Southwestern, who quickly turned a 4-3 lead into a 12-7 advantage and cruised to a 25-10 victory.
The Wildcats closed out the first set with a 13-2 run that included five kills by senior Michelle Budden and three service aces by senior setter Madison Kuhl.
In the second set, Southwestern never held a lead in the entire contest and trailed by one point on six separate occasions.
Down 9-8, the Wildcats then gave up a 13-6 scoring difference to trail 22-14 late in the game.
Behind four kills and two blocks from senior Miranda Kemp, and two service aces from junior Claire Splinter, Southwestern clawed its way back to tie the game at 23-23.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats though, Clayton was able to pull out the two-point victory, 25-23, to even the match at a game apiece.
“I told them that we didn’t play to our potential in that second game,” said coach Wills. “We missed way too many serves, and we didn’t serve aggressive. They got into their rotation and their system, and that’s what we weren’t suppose to do.”
“We did change our strategy,” Wills said of the third and fourth sets. “We also moved the ball around more because they were camping in the middle, because they know that we were middle hitters. We started going off the pin, running threes, running sides and running to our other hitters and they stepped up and put the ball away.”
The third set saw Southwestern jump out to a 9-3 lead, which Clayton cut into once Budden went to the back row.
With a 12-10 advantage, Budden rotated back into the front row and put down three straight blocks followed by a kill to give her team a 16-10 lead.
From that point on, the Wildcats used a 9-6 scoring difference to pull out a 25-16 victory.
The fourth set in Friday’s match saw the two teams tied at 8-8 before Budden took control at the net with five kills and two blocks, giving her team a lead of 21-11.
Clayton got as close as four points at 23-19, but a kill by Kemp, followed by an ace by Splinter, ended the fourth set and gave the win to Southwestern.
In their state semifinal victory, Southwestern served up 13 total aces, which kept Clayton off balance for much of the day.
“Our strategy was to serve aggressive and to take them out of their rotation, which we did,” said coach Wills. “We got a lot of aces.”
“We were not going to give them free balls, because we knew that they ran quicks, and we were going to defend that, which Miranda (Kemp) and Shelly (Budden) really did defend that coming down the stretch,” Wills added. “Our back row stepped up during the third game and the fourth game, where we prevailed and serve received well.”
Leading Southwestern with five service aces was Kuhl, while Splinter added three and Kemp had two.
Putting down a team-high 27 kills and five blocks was Budden, while Kemp had 13 kills, and Kuhl dished out a total of 37 assists.
Amber Brand led the team in digs with 11, as Melissa Tranel had nine.
“We came out and played strong right away,” said Kuhl. “The second game I think we just maybe played too lackadaisical and got down. We are known to stay together and come back, and that’s what we did.”
“It would have been nice to take them in three, but I knew after that one loss that we were going to put it together, and I was confident in our play,” Kuhl added.
That confidence carried right over into Saturday’s state final match, where the Wildcats pulled out a 25-23 win in the first set over the defending state champions from Wausau Newman.
In the second set, the two teams played even from the start and were tied at 14-14, 17-17 and at 19-19.
Southwestern held its biggest lead of two points on six different occasions, the last at 19-17.
From that point on though, Wausau Newman used an 8-0 run to claim a 25-19 victory and even the match at a set apiece.
In the third set, Southwestern never held a lead, and after pulling to within 11-7, saw Wausau Newman use a 9-2 run to take a 20-9 advantage.
The Fighting Cardinals took the third set by a score of 25-12, which gave them a 2-1 advantage in the match.
If the Wildcats were to have any chance at the gold ball, they would have to win the fourth set.
The two teams battled back and forth early in the match with four ties before Southwestern took a 15-10 lead on three kills by Budden and an ace serve by Melissa Tranel.
Wausau Newman used a 7-2 run to tie the set at 17-17, and took their first lead of the set at 19-18, since early in the contest when they held a 2-1 lead.
A kill by Budden from the back row evened the set at 19-19, before Wausau Newman took the lead for good on their way to a 25-20 victory.
“We came out with fire in the first game and played our Southwestern style,” said coach Wills. “Our serve receive broke down in the second and third games. We tried to come back and gave it all we had.”
“They kind of did the opposite to us what we wanted to do to them, by serving aggressive at us and took us out of our system,” Wills said of Wausau Newman. “I feel that at times when we weren’t in system we tried to handle it as best we could, but Newman Catholic is a tough, tough team,” said Wills.
When asked what adjustments she thought Newman Catholic made from the first set to the next three, coach Wills credited their aggressive serves with making the difference for them.
“I think what they did was serve more aggressive,” Wills said. “They were going to win on their serves or lose on their serves. They did put them together and they did take us out of rotation and we had to scramble there for a while. I believe that is what they changed in their game.”
“At the beginning they were hesitant and just kind of gave us the ball and allowed us to stay in our system.”
In the championship match, Budden led the Wildcats with 22 kills and two blocks, while Kemp added six kills and two blocks.
Kuhl dished out a total of 26 assists, while Splinter and Tranel each had two service aces. Coming away with 13 digs was Tranel, while Splinter had 10.
Coach Wills loses the services of seven very valuable seniors, who finished the season with an overall record of 27-2 and another silver ball to display in the school’s trophy cabinet.
“These past two years we have made it to state and have been among the top two teams the last two years, so we should be really happy that we’re here,” said Budden before letting the tears flow.
Along with Budden, the Wildcats will lose Rachel Mueller, Madison Kuhl, Melissa Tranel, Miranda Kemp, Rachael Myers and Jenna Stienstra.
“I think the hard work that they have dedicated to the sport and dedicated to their school, dedicated to athletics and to academics. I think that’s what we need to look at,” said coach Wills. “Southwestern is on the map, but not just for athletics, but academics.”
“These girls were in eighth grade when the first team went to state. They had a dream and here they are, living out that dream for the second time this year,” Wills added. “I’m so thankful to have been able to coach them all, and they will go far in life.”
(D4 state semifinal from Friday, Nov. 6, at the Resch Center in Green Bay)
Southwestern 25 23 25 25
Clayton 10 25 16 19
Kills - Michelle Budden 27, Miranda Kemp 13. Digs - Amber Brand 11, Melissa Tranel 9, Madisn Kuhl 8, Claire Splinter 8. Aces - Kuhl 5, Splinter 3, Kemp 2. Assists - Kuhl 37. Blocks - Budden 5.
Catholic Newman 3,
(D4 state final from Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Resch Center in Green Bay)
Newman Catholic 23 25 25 25
Southwestern 25 19 12 20
Kills - Michelle Budden 22, Miranda Kemp 6. Digs - Tranel 13, Claire Splinter 10. Aces - Splinter 2, Melissa Tranel 2. Assists - Madison Kuhl 26. Blocks - Budden 2, Kemp 2.