PLATTEVILLE - How quickly times have changed. Just two short years ago Platteville and Lancaster were middle-of-the-pack volleyball teams in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference, always looking up at perennial league powers River Valley and Richland Center.
This past Thursday night however, the Hillmen and Arrows were the center of attention in the power-shifted SWC.
Two nights earlier Platteville outlasted Richland Center, one of the 2010 conference co-champs (Lancaster was the other), in a five-set battle that positioned the Hillmen to earn a share of this year’s title.
Junior middle hitter Julia Lawinger turned in one of her best matches of the season with 19 kills and 15 digs, both match highs and senior Tess Stecklein came up huge in the final moments of game four as the Hillmen won a share of the their first league title in nearly two decades with a 25-23, 18-25, 25-22, 25-19 victory over the visiting Arrows.
The win forced a three-way split for the conference title between Platteville, Lancaster and Richland Center, which each finished with identical 8-2 records in the league play and split matches with one another.
According to Platteville coach Yvette Statz this is the program’s first conference title since 1994 and her first in 11 years as a head coach. She has coached the Hillmen since 2008 and spent seven years as Fennimore’s head coach before that.
“I am so proud of the girls,” said Statz. “We established team goals at the beginning of the season. We discussed how those goals were not going to be easy. They understood what it was going to take and most importantly, they believed in themselves. Again, I am so proud of them. They did all the work.”
Despite the loss Lancaster earned a share of back-to-back conference championships with a sweep of Prairie du Chien a week earlier.
Game one was a back-and-forth affair throughout with neither team holding more than a three-point lead at any point.
With the game tied at 23, the 12th tie of the set, Lawinger ripped a kill through the heart of the Lancaster defense. Megan Moss then flicked a quick tip set that induced a Lancaster lift on game point and gave Platteville an early 1-0 lead.
The Arrows rallied to win game two 25-18 behind the stellar all-around play of standout senior setter Kate Noble and the blocking and serving of junior Katrina Polkinghorn.
Noble’s quick-set tips caught Platteville flat-footed on three occasions in the game. She also dished out a number of assists and even slammed a kill of her own on a loose ball. Polkinghorn, who finished the night with four blocks and four aces, came up with a huge block on Lawinger to make it 24-18, then served up a down-the-line ace on game-point.
Noble finished the night with 32 assists and a team-high 13 digs. She also surpassed the 1,000-assist milestone in conference play during the match. Courtney Mumm led the Arrows with 16 kills.
Lancaster rallied from defi cits of 10-5, 14-10 and 20-16 to tie game three at 22-22, but back-to-back hitting errors allowed Platteville to regain a two-point lead, and Stecklein came up with a block on game point.
“We lacked consistency throughout the match,” said Lancaster coach Tiffany Michalkiewicz. “I thought the girls played well at times and were tense at other times. We let Platteville go on big runs especially at the beginning of the sets and you just can’t do that against good teams. I was proud of the fact that even when getting in such big holes we continued to push.”
Platteville once again jumped out to a big lead in the fourth game holding advantages of 16-11 and 20-16, before Lancaster once again rallied.
A Noble ace, a Mumm kill and a Polkinghorn blocked pulled the Arrows within two. But Stecklein, who had been sent to the bench earlier in the game because of hitting struggles, returned to the match and took over.
Stecklein came of the bench and immediately slammed back-to-back kills, then had a block. A Megan Moss ace made it 24-18, and on match point, Stecklein came up her fourth kill of the game.
“Tess was struggling offensively during the match,” said Statz. “But she re-focused on what exactly we needed out of her to help push for the win. She did exactly that and like came back onto the court with confidence and determination.”
Stecklein finished the night with 12 kills and 13 digs. Junior Mackenzie Bartels added 11 kills and four blocks, and senior Katie Lucas passed out 39 assists.
Platteville (28-9 overall) outlasted Richland Center 25-14, 21-25, 25-20, 14-25, 15-12 on Tuesday to improved to 7-2 in league play. Lawinger pounded 20 kills, while Stecklein added 15. Bartels contributed 12 kills and four blocks, and Katie Lucas passed out 50 assists.
Platteville 3, Lancaster 1
(from Thursday, Oct. 13 @ Platteville)
Lancaster 23 25 22 19
Platteville 25 18 25 25
Platteville stat leaders: Kills - Julia Lawinger 19, Tess Stecklein 12, Makenzie Bartels 11 Blocks - Bartels 4, Megan Moss 4, Stecklein 2. Assists - Katie Lucas 39. Aces - Taylor Pagliaro 2, Lawinger 2, Lucas 2. Digs - Lawinger 15, Stecklein 13, Updike 12, Pagliaro 11.
Platteville 3, Richland Center 2
(from Tuesday, Oct. 11 @ Platteville)
Richland Center 14 25 20 25 12
Platteville 25 21 25 14 15
Platteville stat leaders: Kills - Julia Lawinger 20, Tess Stecklein 15, Mackenzie Bartels 12. Blocks - Megan Moss 6, Lawinger 4, Bartels 4. Assists - Katie Lucas 50. Aces - Taylor Pagliaro 2. Digs - Stecklein 24, Briette Updike 19, Lawinger 18.