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Vanguards end Cubans state dreams
CC VB Kaisers block
Seniors Devon Kaiser (#5) and Kaitlyn Kaiser (#8) stretch to block the hit from a Vanguard player in Thursday's game. - photo by Thomas Gunnell

NEW GLARUS – Cuba City had Wisconsin Heights up against the ropes in their sectional semifinal showdown, but the Cubans were unable to land the knockout punch.

The #9-ranked Vanguards stunned the #8-ranked Cubans (29-7-3 overall) by scoring the final seven points to rally for a 25-11 victory which sealed a 3-2 decision in a WIAA Division 3 Sectional Semifinal match held at New Glarus High School on Thursday, Oct. 29.

“We just couldn’t finish. When we had to make plays, Wisconsin Heights found ways to beat us. A good team will do that,” said Cuba City head coach Keri Lawson. “You can’t leave any openings in a sectional game because its one and done. Our kids performed well. We just got shaky at certain times.”

Trailing 2-1, the Cubans kept their season alive with a 25-20 victory in set four to force a decisive fifth set, and they looked poised to advance to Saturday after grabbing an 11-8 lead after getting two kills, an ace and a block kill by senior middle hitter Kaitlyn Kaiser and three more kills from senior outside hitter Jessi Marti.

After a timeout, the Vanguards a point and the serve on a tip kill by junior Mackenzie Doherty. Senior Viktoriya Kalsow stepped to the line and served up the next six points to spearhead the comeback.

Following a net violation and a pair of unforced errors that gave Wisconsin Heights the lead, Kalsow served up an ace to reach game-point and the Vanguards won a wild volley with a push kill into the back corner to end the Cubans’ season.

“At the 11-8 timeout, the message was just to take care of the ball. After the side out, we got into a serve receive nightmare. Just like that it was tied, and the last timeout for us was one of a few words– breath and believe. WH had the ball and the momentum, something you never want to lose in set five. Giving up seven straight points is not something we have done all year. That is what makes the tournament so intense. You try to prepare for everything that may come your way and in the end it is the team who makes the plays down the stretch. WH is very good at that,” Lawson said.

It is the third straight year the Vanguards have ended Cuba City’s tournament run in sectionals, and the second year in a row they did it in five sets– a situation the Cubans have only been in three times over the past three seasons.

“This loss hurts for these kids. You want your team to battle the next year at the same level against a same opponent,” explained Lawson, who has led her Cubans up against the Vanguards in the playoffs nine times over the past 13 seasons (4-5). “Losing to them three years in a row is a little too much for me. I feel bad for the kids.”

The Cubans held a 24-21 lead in set one, but gave up five unanswered points to drop a 24-26 decision to fall behind 0-1.

“We just needed to score points quicker and we needed to finish games off better. Sectionals is a whole different level mentally and competitively,” Lawson stated.

Lawson’s squad regrouped in set two and won a see-saw battle with the Vanguards. The teams traded the lead seven times and were tied 12 different times in the set before the Cubans eventually took the lead for good on a four-point service run by Kaiser. The Cubans evened the match with a 25-21 win.

Heights won set three by a score of 25-23 to take a 2-1 lead, and then won it with a come-from-behind win in set five.

“This has been a great group of kids. We’ve come a long way this season. I’m very proud of them. They became a team very early in the season. Athletically, in volleyball skill sets, that took awhile, but they finished strong,” said Lawson. “If we had another chance, it might be a different story at the end. But, I’m proud of them and feel privileged to coach these kids from Cuba City.”

Kaiser finished with 12 kills, 13 digs, seven blocks and four aces to lead the Cubans on the night. Marti added 11 kills and a team-high 21 digs, while junior setter Ally Averkamp distributed 22 assists.

Junior Maizee Splinter chipped in with 10 kills, and senior Emily Wiederholt tallied seven kills and three aces for the Cubans, who missed just one serve the whole match and finished with 11 aces.

“We didn’t have a lot of errors serving, but we also didn’t have a big power jump server that takes their receivers out of system,” Lawson admitted.

Megan Hartl registered 13 assists and Allison Brogley notched 10 digs for CC.

“After looking at stats, Wisconsin Heights planned well and set up their defense to slow down our attack, especially from Jessi and Kaitlyn. They both had a big block to get through. Their serves (when over) are bullets with topspin and that put us in a few situations where we had to push balls over since we were out of system. We made great plays, and they made great plays all night long. Once we pushed to the fifth set, I knew our kids were conditioned to battle to the end,” commented Lawson.

Senior Macenzie Kraemer finished with 51 digs, 17 kills, four blocks and four aces to lead the Vanguards, who missed 14 serves on the night but also had 14 aces.

“They served really well like they always do,” said Lawson.

Closing out their careers for the Lady Cubans were seniors Katie Salzmann, Devon Kaiser, Jessi Marti, Kaitlyn Kaiser, Emily Wiederholt, Allison Brogley and Gabrielle Kruser. Kaiser, who played on the Cubans’ state team in 2012 finished her varsity career with a 121-28 overall record.

“Our seniors are devastated. All they wanted to do was have a chance to play for the big one. They’re tough kids. It’s been awesome to coach them because they’ve been fantastic leaders. They really made this group a team early in the season,” noted Lawson. “We had a little bit of everything on our roster. They took the inexperienced kids and put them under their wings and let them ride their backs.”

Next year, the Cubans will return looking to defend their SWAL title for a fifth straight season and their regional title for a fifth consecutive year as well. However, until then, Coach Lawson will have the past three sectional appearances on her mind

“This is definitely going to ride with me for another 11 months. How do I get the kids to compete to the end? How do you find that confidence? Those are the things most coaches battle with. It’s the mental game,” commented Lawson.

Wisconsin Heights’ season came to a close at Brodhead High School on Saturday evening with a 3-1 (25-19, 21-25, 25-17, 25-18) sectional final loss to the defending Division 3 state champion Waterloo Pirates.

It was the third year in a row the Vanguards lost in the sectional final match and the second straight time against the Pirates.

Wisconsin Heights… 26  21  25  20  15
Cuba City……………. 24  25  23  25  11
Kills: Kaitlyn Kaiser, 12. Blocks: Kaiser, 7. Assists: Ally Averkamp, 22. Aces: Kaiser, 4. Digs: Jessi Marti, 24.
At New Glarus, on Thursday, Oct. 29