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SUN PRAIRIE — The Sun Prairie girls volleyball team has new faces in prominent places on the court this season after the Cardinals made a run to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament semifinals last year.

But four starters return from that team and two are significant contributors: the Cardinals’ defensive standout, 5-foot-4 senior libero Liz Maastricht, and their hammer on attack, 6-0 outside hitter Claire Chaussee.

Those two played pivotal roles as the defending Big Eight Conference champion and host Sun Prairie swept Middleton 25-20, 25-22, 25-16 on Thursday night.

Chaussee, the conference’s player of the year and a first-team All-State selection, had a match-high 19 kills, while Maastricht, an honorable-mention All-State choice, had a match-high 23 digs for Sun Prairie (14-1 overall, 2-0 Big Eight).

“It is nice to have her,” Sun Prairie coach T.J. Rantala said of Chaussee, a Louisville recruit. “I do think that out of those tough spots, Liz Maastricht played some phenomenal defense. She made a couple unbelievable digs that Claire got a kill off of, but it started with phenomenal defense.”

Junior outside hitter Lily Welti and senior outside hitter/middle blocker Jennifer McGinnis had seven kills apiece and 5-10 junior middle blocker Taylor Byington had a match-high 5½ blocks to lead Middleton (7-8, 1-1).

Middleton coach Franco Marcos wasn’t surprised Maastricht and Chaussee came through for Sun Prairie, seventh in Division 1 in the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association state rankings.

“Maastricht was just going after everything as the libero,” Marcos said.

Marcos said he knew Chaussee would be a special talent when he coached her for Capital Volleyball Academy when she was 12 and 13 years old. He is emphasizing to his setters that they need to look for Middleton’s big hitters, particularly at key moments — as Sun Prairie senior setters Sam Krekel, who had a match-high 26 assists, and Ally Keuler look for Chaussee.

“At crucial times, you have to go to your big guns,” Marcos said. “You look at Sun Prairie, when they need a big point, they go to her.”

Chaussee delivered a kill that halted a four-point run by Middleton, giving Sun Prairie a 19-14 lead in the first set. Chaussee helped erase a 12-10 second-set deficit, starting and ending her team’s four-point rally with kills. Her kill put Sun Prairie on top 23-22, the beginning of three consecutive points that wrapped up the second set. “I think my hitting is pretty good,” Chaussee said. “But my defense and serve-receive definitely need improvement. I try my best. I try to do smart shots and not always try to swing hard.”

Chaussee received hitting support from senior right-side hitter and returning starter Bailey Ledford and several players earning more critical court time this season, including sophomore outside hitter Karlie McNabb, 6-1 senior middle blocker Mariah Calkins and 6-0 junior middle blocker Holly McCloskey.

Sun Prairie has 10 seniors, though not all of them played a lot in 2016. Despite that, Chaussee said: “It’s a lot of older people who know what’s happening. We have a good group of girls that know what is going on on the court. And off the court everyone knows what their part is. So, it’s good.

“There is learning (that needs to occur), but we are meshing really well. We still have to practice serve-receive and figure that out, but I think our hitters and setters are connecting really well.”

Sun Prairie won its own season-opening tournament and finished second at Green Bay Notre Dame’s Triton Invitational before starting conference play.

“It’s always a battle any time Sun Prairie and Middleton meet in anything, right?” Rantala said. “It’s something to get pumped up for. Any time we beat them, it’s a good win. And to sweep them is even better. You have to be pleased with that.”

Marcos liked what he saw from his team and is eager for another crack at Sun Prairie later in the season.

“Even though it was 0-3, it was a deceiving 0-3,” he said. “We missed serves at crucial times. Against a team like Sun Prairie, or any of the good teams, you can’t do that.”

Middleton 20 22 16

Sun Prairie 25 25 25

Middleton (leaders): Kills — Welti 7, McGinnis 7. Digs — Gundrum 11. Blocks — Byington 5½. Aces — McGinnis 3. Assists — Harris 11.

Sun Prairie: Kills — Chaussee 19. Digs — Maastricht 23. Blocks — Chaussee 1½, McCloskey 1½. Aces — Chaussee 3. Assists — Krekel 26.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.