WHITEWATER — It’s starting to click for the Platteville varsity volleyball team and that could mean trouble for the rest of the Southwest Wisconsin Conference.
Just four days after the Hillmen opened the season with an uneven 2–3 performance at the six-team Watertown Early Bird Invitational, first-year coach Lindsay Neal’s club played like a different team.
The Hillmen appear to have bought into Neal’s total team approach and ditched the individual play that led to a number of unforced errors and a 1–3 start to the season at Watertown last Tuesday.
The result of that change in mindset was a second-place finish at the two-day, 20-team UW–Whitewater Warhawk Open Saturday.
“Finishing second at Whitewater was a redemption from Watertown,” said Neal, who spent the past six years coaching at Pleasant Hill High School in Missouri. “We did not play to our potential at Watertown, but we did so at Whitewater. The key to our success was a team effort by all girls on the court, not an individual.”
Platteville rattled off eight straight victories — four Friday evening and four more on Saturday — to reach the championship match at Whitewater.
The Hillmen ran out of gas in the finals and fell to Division 1 Merrill 16–25, 18–25, but Neal was pleased with her team’s quick turnaround.
“The girls kept each other up and you could see a big difference in not getting down on themselves when they made an error,” said Neal. “They looked like they were having a lot of fun as well. When you are having fun, you play better. There were key focuses in each game. The girls were asked to execute certain strategies and were able to execute well making a difference in how our matches turned out.”
The Hillmen return eight players from last year’s team that went 40–6 and reached the Division 2 state tournament, but Neal knows her team still has room for improvement to reach the next level.
Neal has made slight tweaks to the rotation, is encouraging her setters to run different sets and spread the ball around on offense, and has had to use a by-committee approach to replace four-year starting libero Briette Updike.
“At this point in the season we still need to work on being open-minded to new skill development and game strategy,” said Neal. “They are comfortable in what they already know, but the coaches and I are working on broadening their knowledge even further. They have been receptive to new ideas but now we need to put them all into place on the court.”
Platteville (10–4) won 16 of its first 17 sets at the Warhawk Open before being swept in the finals.
The Hillmen opened the tournament with a 25–20, 23–25, 15–9 victory over Burlington Catholic Central, then swept Sussex Hamilton, Randolph and Whitewater to win its five-team pool in Friday’s opening round.
Platteville continued to roll Saturday morning, hammering Oak Creak 25–10, 25–6, then sweeping Milton and Franklin to win its four-team group in the Warkhawk pool play round of the tournament and earn a first-round bye in the six-team single-elimination championship bracket.
After a brief rest, the Hillmen defeated Union Grove, 25–21, 19–25, 15–7, in the semifinals. Senior outside hitter Morgan Stecklein led the way in the semifinal victory with a huge 16-kill performance. Stecklein finished the tournament with a team-high 81 kills, 26 aces (17 service errors) and eight blocks to earn a spot on the All-Tournament team.
Senior outside hitter Maddie Carroll smashed 39 kills in nine matches, while senior middle hitter Faye Bailie (37), senior right-side hitter Marissa Marino (34), senior middle hitter Allison Woodworth (34) and senior right-side hitter Claire Tashner (23) each had more than 20 kills in Platteville’s balanced attack.
Woodworth made 25 blocks to lead the team. Bailie registered 18 blocks. Returning setters Rachel Emendorfer and Jenna Phillips played well and led the team in assists.
Last Tuesday at Watertown, Platteville dropped matches to Division 1 Hartland Arrowhead, Watertown and Westosha Central, but posted a win against Kaukauna and finished the day on a high-note with a 2–1 win over fellow 2014 Division 2 state qualifier Waupun.
“The Watertown tournament gave us an opportunity to see where our strengths and weaknesses are,” said Neal. “It was a high level of competition and we learned very quickly what we need to work on.
“In the final match against Waupun, we looked like we were relaxing and finally working together as a team instead of as six individual girls on the court. We cut down on our errors which made a big difference.”
Platteville will host Prairie du Chien in its home opener Thursday night to begin SWC play.
Watertown Early Bird Invitational
(from Tuesday, Aug. 25 @ Watertown)
Team standings — Hartland Arrowhead 5–0, Watertown 4–1, Westosha Central 2–3, Platteville 2–3, Kaukuana 1–4, Waupun 1–4.
Platteville match scores
Arrowhead def. Platteville 19–25, 25–19, 15–12
Platteville def. Kaukauna 25–18, 25–22
Westosha Central def. Platteville 25–20, 25–17
Watertown def. Platteville 25–22, 25–14
Platteville def. Waupun 15–25, 25–14, 16–14
Platteville stat leaders
Kills: Morgan Stecklein 36, Maddie Carroll 20, Marissa Marino 17, Allison Woodworth 15, Faye Bailie 13, Claire Tashner 11. Blocks: Woodworth 8, Bailie 8, Tashner 5, Stecklein 4. Assists: Rachel Emendorfer n/a, Jenna Phillips n/a. Aces: Emendorfer 8, Phillips 5, Mariono 5. Digs: n/a.
UW–Whitewater Warhawk Open
(from Friday–Saturday, Aug. 28–29 @ UW–Whitewater)
Championship — Merrill def. Platteville, 25–16, 25–18.
Semifinals — Merrill def. Sussex Hamilton 25–18, 25–9; Platteville def. Union Grove 25–21, 19–25, 15–7.
Quarterfinals — Merrill def. Franklin 25–13, 25–17; Union Grove def. Lakeside Lutheran 25–22, 13–25, 15–11.
Platteville’s pool play scores (Friday)
Plateville def. Catholic Central 25–20, 23–25, 15–9
Platteville def. Sussex Hamilton 25–21, 26–24
Platteville def. Randolph 25–23, 25–18
Platteville def. Whitewater 25–5, 25–11
Platteville’s Warhawk pool scores (Saturday)
Platteville def. Oak Creek 25–10, 25–6
Platteville def. Milton 25–17, 25–13
Platteville def. Franklin 25–19, 27–25
Platteville stat leaders
Kills: Morgan Stecklein 81, Maddie Carroll 39, Faye Bailie 37, Marissa Marino 34, Allison Woodworth 34, Claire Tashner 23. Blocks: Woodworth 25, Bailie 18, Tashner 11, Marino 10, Stecklein 8. Assists: Rachel Emendorfer n/a, Jenna Phillips n/a. Aces: Stecklein 26, Lexi Buden 17, Marino 16, Tashner 12, Emendorfer 12. Digs: n/a.