It’s a barrier that seems to block the Menomonee Falls girls’ volleyball team every time it makes it to the WIAA state tournament.
The Indians have advanced to state four out of the last eight years, but have been denied a shot at the title match.
On Friday night, Burlington showed why it’s the No. 1-ranked team in Division 1 by the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association (WVCA), beating Menomonee Falls in the state semifinals at the Resch Center in Green Bay in four games, 25-13, 17-25, 25-16, 25-17.
“These girls are resilient and realistic,” Menomonee Falls coach J.C. Bruns said. “They don’t want to settle for the fact that they lost, but they also know that this just wasn’t our night and we lost to a great team. I think they also know that if we played Burlington again, we’d get a better shot at them. But at the same time, they’re not hanging their heads; they’re taking solace in the fact that (Burlington) is the best team this year.”
The loss puts an end to one of the most successful seasons in Menomonee Falls’ history. The Indians closed out the year with a 40-9 record.
“We were basically the third-best Division 1 team in the state and I couldn’t be prouder about that,” Bruns said.
Menomonee Falls, rated No. 5 in the final regular-season WVCA poll, set a number of goals at the beginning of the season and was able to check off quite a few accomplishments.
“Our first goal was to try to win conference, we almost did that. It was a tough battle against (Divine Savior Holy Angels) and we ended up finishing second,” Bruns said. “Second goal was to get to state, which we did and then you want to try to do something once you’re there. Getting a chance to win your first-round game and being one of the last four teams to battle, pretty pleased with the overall result, that’s for sure.”
Bruns stacked the regular-season schedule with strong opponents. Out of Menomonee Falls’ nine losses this season, five came to teams that made the state tournament — three of those were to Divine Savior Holy Angels, which will play for the state title Saturday vs. Burlington.
“We always play a tough schedule, that’s a tradition here,” Bruns said. “We like to play the best to get us ready for these kinds of situations and I think it definitely helps us.”
Burlingtonwas not on Menomonee Falls’ schedule this season but generally is. The Demons have lost only two matches and eight games the entire season.
Against Menomonee Falls Friday night, Burlington was dominant in Games 1 and 3, winning 25-13 and 25-16. The Demons also took the final game, 25-17.
“They served us really tough, we were out of system, couldn’t get our offense going,” Bruns said. “They passed awesome against us, stayed in system and their big outside hitter (Ciara) Capezio just pounded on us early and often and really took the wind out of our sails.”
Menomonee Falls’ lone shining moment on the night was taking Game 2, 25-17. The Indians switched their rotation and passed and blocked well. However, for most of the night, Menomonee Falls star outside hitter Simone Lee was neutralized.
“We just couldn’t get it going consistently tonight, but you’ve got to tip your cap to Burlington, they certainly played an awesome match tonight,” Bruns said.
Lee still finished the match with 18 kills and 12 digs. Abby Becker added 16 assists and Katherine Von Bank and Maddie Micech each had seven digs, respectively.
Menomonee Falls loses just three seniors off this year’s squad. According to Bruns, they weren’t the most vocal group, but they led by example and taught a great deal to the underclassmen.
“Sarah Held started for us for a few years and was on varsity for three years. She really stepped up this year and was a senior leader and a big contributor,” Bruns said. “Madeline Molnor started for us for two years at the middle and did everything we asked of her to be a defender. Carly Poth had a rough season, didn’t get a lot of time early on, but was a real big leader for us down the stretch and accepted her role and showed a lot of maturity in how she handled it. We’re going to miss their leadership, but we’ll have some new girls to replace them like we do every year.”
The Indians return a great group of players for next season. Lee, Becker and Von Bank will be a tremendous trio of seniors, all entering their fourth year as starters. They will also have some good role players around them, including two players with three years of varsity experience.
“The senior class next year will probably be seven, one of the biggest I’ve ever had,” Bruns said. “They like playing with each other and they’ll certainly like the opportunity to battle again next year when it rolls around.”
With a solid core of players coming back, Bruns believes it could be one of the best teams he’s ever coached.
“Numbers would say that, getting those guys back for their fourth year, thinking they’ll be even better again next year, but that’s why we play the games,” Bruns said. “Some years I thought we’d be better than others, some years I thought we weren’t going to be good and we turned out to be better. But we’ve certainly got to like our prospects moving forward.”