ASHWAUBENON — The first and only time the McFarland girls volleyball team competed in the state tournament was in 1982. Eight-year-old Trish Fortune was in the infancy of her volleyball career.
Growing up, Fortune dreamed of playing at state. Her players this season had similar dreams. In her 19th season coaching the Spartans, Fortune was able to fulfill those dreams and lead her team to state.
Now, McFarland is just one win away from capturing the program’s first WIAA state championship.
In a rematch of a season-opening tournament, top-seeded McFarland used strong serving and the hitting combination of Avery Pennekamp and Nina Crull to take down fourth-seeded Bloomer, 25-18, 25-15, 25-14, in a Division 2 semifinal on Friday at the Resch Center.
“Just really proud of the team and how they put a complete match together. That’s something we’ve been talking about in practice,” Fortune said.
Pennekamp, a sophomore outside hitter, registered six kills in the first set, but then Bloomer focused its defense on shutting her down. No worries.
McFarland went to its other big hitter, Crull, who tallied seven kills in the final two sets to help the Spartans earn the sweep. Senior setter Lizzy Fortune, Trish Fortune's daughter, had a match-high 29 assists.
“We have just such a balanced attack across the front court and that’s what’s so difficult for teams to figure out who are McFarland’s go-tos,” Trish Fortune said. “We have some strong middles and right side, and we’re able to move the ball and keep a fast tempo.”
McFarland, which has won 31 consecutive matches, finished with a hitting percentage of .182 and collected 11 service aces. Bloomer, in its first state appearance, hit just .020 and never could get into an offensive rhythm.
McFarland (37-3), ranked fourth in Division 2 in the final Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association poll, opened an 11-8 lead in the opening set before Bloomer (32-8) went up, 15-13.
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Trish Fortune called timeout and stressed to her players about controlling what they could control. Errors were costly at that point in the match, and the McFarland players responded.
Pennekamp, who totaled a match-high 13 kills, had back-to-back spike kills as the Spartans went on a 10-1 run to take a commanding 23-16 lead. McFarland took the opener, 25-18, scoring 12 of the last 15 points.
McFarland has five players who stand 5-foot-10 or taller, which proved to be a tough matchup for Bloomer.
“We really struggled with her (Pennekamp) in terms of setting up our blocks in the first couple of sets, then I felt like we finally found her,” Bloomer coach Liz Bohl said. “They had a lot of weapons and they’re a very good team.”
With Pennekamp keyed on, she was happy to let her teammates pick up some big points. Crull, a 5-11 junior outside hitter, was one of those who stepped up, totaling 10 kills.
“I just wanted to fill my role and be a part of the team,” Crull said. “And I knew all my teammates trusted me and I trusted them.”
The second set was tied at 5-5 before McFarland went on an 11-3 run to go up, 16-8. Bloomer could only cut its deficit to four before the Spartans scored eight of the set’s final 10 points to win, 25-15.
The Spartans closed out the match by never trailing in the third set for a 25-14 victory.
McFarland advanced to the program’s first state title match. It will face Luxemburg-Casco at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I really respect Jeff (Frey, the Luxemburg-Casco coach) and it will be a fighting battle, no doubt about it,” Fortune said. “But I feel confident with our team that they’ve been through some tough matches and played some top teams.
"Our sectional was just brutal. We weathered through that, and the team should only believe that they can play with the best.”
Said Pennekamp: “We’ve worked so hard to come here, and I’m hoping we get the gold.”