There are a number of unsung heroes on the Menomonee Falls girls volleyball team.
Star player Simone Lee gets most of the praise and accolades, but it’s the other five players on the court who have become Lee’s support staff and a major reason why the Indians are in the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals.
Menomonee Falls was dominant in its opening-round match Thursday night at the Resch Center, cruising past Sun Prairie, 25-13, 25-14, 25-16. The Indians will challenge Burlington at 7 p.m. Friday. If Falls advances, the Indians will play the winner of Divine Savior Holy Angels and Merrill at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I think the support staff is awesome,” said Lee, who finished the match with 10 kills. “Everyone’s so supportive of one another. I think it helps, especially if one person gets down on themselves, because there’s always someone to pick you back up, tell you you’re going to do a fine job, like you’ve got the next ball. There’s no one talking you down at all and I think that’s what really motivates our team.”
Lee, a junior outside hitter who has verbally committed to play volleyball at Penn State University, is usually the girl who stirs the drink for Menomonee Falls. However, she wasn’t needed most of the match vs. Sun Prairie.
“We didn’t use her a lot in the first game in the half, surprisingly,” Menomonee Falls coach J.C. Bruns said. “It was a good team effort early on and then we got her going in the second half of Game 2 and Game 3 really showed what she can do. It wasn’t that she wasn’t doing well, we didn’t really use her, didn’t really need her. I think that shows that we’ve got other players than just her.”
Katherine Von Bank, the “other” outside hitter for the Indians, had a solid night with 10 kills. Middle blocker Madeline Molnor also played well Friday night. Abby Becker came through with 21 assists.
“There’s a great support group around (Lee), that’s for sure,” Bruns said.
Lee is a phenomenal player, but she doesn’t let that get to her head. She also doesn’t let her teammates play second fiddle on the court.
“Simone doesn’t let them feel like that,” Bruns said. “She might be the star player, but she certainly doesn’t act like a star. She just wants to be one of the girls and they want to be around her.”
“I think that I’m as much the part of the team as the person that sits on the bench,” Lee said. “I think that we’re all mutually a part of this team and we all contribute to playing the game and we all contribute to winning or we all contribute to a loss. It’s not just one person that does anything and I think our team does a really nice job.”
In the first game on Friday, Menomonee Falls (40-8) had a fight with Sun Prairie early with it tied at 5, but the Indians went on an 8-3 run to end it at 25-13.
Game 2 was another battle at the outset as the Cardinals jumped out to a 7-5 lead, but Menomonee Falls answered with a 7-0 spurt and didn’t look back, winning 25-14. Menomonee Falls didn’t trail in the final game, taking it 25-16.
Sun Prairie was making its first trip to state tournament, while Menomonee Falls is in its fourth appearance in the last eight years under Bruns.
There are five girls on this year’s team who played on the 2010 state team, including three starters in Lee, Becker and Von Bank.
“I think experience had a big factor and also I think we came out with the mindset no matter what the outcome of this game is, we’re going to play tough no matter what,” Lee said. “That’s how we maintained focus throughout the entire match and I think that’s really a big part.”
In Menomonee Falls’ previous three trips to state, it advanced to the semifinals two times, but never to the finals.
“We’re on a mission, but it’s one game at a time,” Bruns said.
Bruns saw potential at the beginning of the season, but knew to be successful, some key athletes needed to step up. The coach has seen big strides from his back-row players on defense and in service receive.
“I saw some players that were here last year that were ready to step into bigger roles, like Simone,” Bruns said. “Abby was ready to set all the way around and I was just hoping for that defensive consistency. Once we saw that early on, which we didn’t have last year, I knew that the sky could be the limit for us this year.”
Bruns is pleased that his team is peaking at the right time of the season, something it hasn’t done in the past.
“A lot of times we’ve peaked early or peaked in the middle of the year,” Bruns said. “We hit a rough patch in the middle of the season and I think we’re right back where we need to be for something like this.”
Menomonee Falls, the No. 5-rated team in Division 1 in the final Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association poll, will face its toughest test of the season Friday night against No. 1 Burlington. The defending state champions downed De Pere in three games and are playing well.
“Burlington’s senior group has been here four years in a row,” Bruns said. “They’ve got their three core players are seniors and are all going to Division I programs. We’ve been battling them for four years. They’re great players and we’ve got to shut down their outside hitter and go from there.”
“When we play Burlington, we have to keep up our consistent passing because that’s what won us the game,” Lee said. “When we have passing and setting, no one can stop us when we get a kill.”
Menomonee Falls just needs to remember it’s only two wins away from a state title.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Bruns said. “I think getting to this point is something that we could have done and anyone can win from here on out and why not us.”