HAZEL GREEN – With all the success the Southwestern volleyball team has had the last few seasons, the one thing the Wildcats haven’t achieved is winning a SWAL title. Cuba City, their rival from just up the road, has done a good job of keeping it away from them.
However, the Wildcats (16-0 overall, 5-0 SWAL) may not be wanting much longer after gaining control of the SWAL lead by sweeping the visiting Cubans off the court, 3-0, in impressive fashion at SHS on Thursday, Sept. 17.
“I’m speechless. I knew they had it in them. They just had to go out and prove it to themselves. They did that,” said Southwestern head coach Jane Wills after watching her Wildcats end the Cubans’ 43-match SWAL winning streak dating back to 2011. “We taking it one step at a time. One game, one goal and we’ll build on that. We take care of our business.”
And, take care of business they did as they kept the Cubans (16-5-1, 4-1) on their heels for much of the match by mixing in blistering spikes with well-placed, well-timed tips and aggressive serves.
“Southwestern is so comfortable with each other. We had our opportunities. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times and we’d leave the door open. We just couldn’t finish,” stated Cuba City head coach Keri Lawson, who has led the Cubans to three consecutive conference crowns. “They just found ways to win the rallies.”
The Wildcats never allowed the Cubans to score more than three points in a row in any set and the Cubans never led by more than four points at any point in the match. The longest run for the ‘Cats was five points and their largest lead was six points.
“They are a good team. We had good ball control. Our servers are so aggressive. I think our serves got them out of system. When they’re in system, they kill it like we do,” Wills commented.
The teams traded the lead six times in set one before the Wildcats took the lead for good at 18-16 on back-to-back kills by Miranda Kemp and Amber Brand. The ‘Cats extended the lead to 23-17, and held off a late surge by the Cubans to go up 1-0 with a 25-22 decision.
Southwestern continued to stay in front of the Cubans for most of set two as they grabbed a 2-0 advantage with a 25-20 win. Senior Michelle Budden slammed home a spike kill and a block kill for the final two points.
In set three, the Cubans pulled out to an early lead behind three missed serves and a couple of hitting errors by the Wildcats. Lawson's squad took their largest lead of the night at 12-8 on a spike kill by senior Jessi Marti, but the hosts reeled off seven of the next eight points to turn a four-point deficit into a 15-13 lead.
The Cubans fought back to tie it at 23 all on an ace by Marti, however Budden got the serve back for the ‘Cats with her match-high 21st kill and an unforced error by the Cubans gave them the sweep with a 25-23 decision.
“We’ve been working on not having so many unforced errors on our side of the net. I changed line-ups three times tonight. We’re at that point and we’re still having some growing pains,” said Lawson. “I sure would have liked to see what would’ve happened if we could’ve taken one set.”
Madison Kuhl distributed 30 assists for the Wildcats, while Melissa Tranel led the team with 24 digs. Kemp finished with nine kills, and Brand had two of the team’s six aces.
Senior Kaitlyn Kaiser slammed 10 kills and added six blocks for the Cubans. Marti had nine kills and two aces in the match.
The Wildcats opened the week by sweeping Iowa-Grant, 25-14, 25-14, 25-10, in a SWAL match in Livingston on Tuesday, Sept. 15, while the Cubans swept Riverdale, 25-16, 25-18,25-13, in Muscoda on Tuesday.
Southwestern wrapped up last week by going 4-0 to win the Benton Volleyball Invitational at BHS on Saturday, Sept. 19. The Wildcats swept Barneveld (25-11, 25-15), Warren (25-14, 25-17) and Shullsburg (25-18, 25-10, and then won a 2-1 decision over the host Zephyrs (23-25, 25-16, 15-12) to secure the crown.
Budden recorded 55 kills and 12 blocks on the day to lead the ‘Cats.
At Fennimore, on Monday, Sept. 21, the Lady Wildcats kept their winning streak alive by sweeping Fennimore, 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-22), in SWAL action.
Claire Splinter recorded 16 digs for the Wildcats and Budden smacked 15 kills and had three blocks.
At Oshkosh, on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 18-19, the Lady Cubans posted a 5-2 overall record on the way to a ninth-place finish at the 32-team UW-Oshkosh High School Showdown.
The Cubans defeated Plymouth, 2-0 (25-19, 25-8), and Plainfield Tri-County, 2-0 (25-11, 25-6), and fell to Verona, 0-2 (16-25, 8-25), on Friday to advance on to Gold Bracket play with a 2-1 record. Cuba City dropped a match to Sun Prairie, 0-2 (22-25, 18-25), to open play on Saturday, and then finished up with wins over Luxemburg-Casco, 2-0 (25-13, 25-15), Athens, 2-0 (25-22, 25-17) and Milton, 2-1 (20-25, 25-11, 15-10) to go 3-1 on the day.
Kaiser tallied 44 kills, 17 blocks and seven aces en route to a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Ally Averkamp registered 70 assists for the Cubans with Megan Hartl adding 30 assists. Jessi Marti had 27 kills, 48 digs and seven aces, while Emily Wiederholt tallied 24 kills, 12 blocks, 23 digs and seven aces. Maizee Splinter chipped in with eight blocks for the Cubans.
Southwestern returns to SWAL action at home against Mineral Point on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Cuba City travels to Fennimore on Tuesday, Sept. 29.