ASHWAUBENON — The hole was just too deep from which to dig out.
The Sun Prairie girls volleyball team lost the opening two sets to Oconomowoc in a WIAA Division 1 state quarterfinal match on Thursday night. The Cardinals captured the third set before their good fortune ran out and No. 3-seeded Oconomowoc took the match 25-16, 25-22, 20-25, 25-16 at the Resch Center.
“We got tight, we got nervous and they battled back — they had some good points in there,” Sun Prairie coach T.J. Rantala said. “It’s tough. It’s tough to get down that far and come back from it.”
Sun Prairie, which won its previous 12 matches entering state, fell 2-1 in mid-September to Oconomowoc at the Eastbay Charger Challenge. Since that match was nearly seven weeks ago, the two teams changed quite a bit throughout the course of the season.
“I do feel like their outsides have gotten a lot better since we played them,” Rantala said. “We were able to get them out of system but I thought they did a nice job attacking and terminating out of system. That’s tough. Usually you can get teams out of system and they can’t do much with it.”
On Thursday, Sun Prairie (40-9) got back-to-back kills from Josie Halbleib and Payton Addink to tie the second set 22-22. But Oconomowoc’s Maleah Howe later registered consecutive points to give the Raccoons (30-7) the win.
“I think it takes a great deal of focus when it’s 22-22,” Sun Prairie senior libero Morgan Jensen said. “We had to focus on the little things and I think right at the end there they beat us. But when we played the third set we did focus and pulled it out.”
In the third set, Sun Prairie led 17-10. Oconomowoc made its push, getting within 21-19, but Maggie Allaman and Addink notched kills to secure a 25-20 victory for the Cardinals.
“When you drop a third set like that, you just go back to focusing on the little things,” Oconomowoc coach Michelle Bruss said. “Being disciplined and thinking about what it was that got us to that point, that got us a 2-0 lead.”
Riding all the momentum into the fourth, Sun Prairie — which had an attack percentage of .198 with 22 errors on the night — couldn’t match Oconomowoc’s intensity. The Raccoons jumped out to an 11-2 lead, watched the advantage whittle down to 18-15 before pulling out the victory.
“One thing we always talk about in the huddle is that we can’t play to be scared and we can’t play not to lose,” said Sun Prairie junior outside hitter K.J. McNabb, who matched Addink with a team-high 10 kills. “We have to play to win, we always tell each other that. We’re a good team. We’re a team that can come back from that, we just have to fight for it.”
After losing 10 seniors from last season, including Claire Chaussee, who is now playing at Louisville, Rantala heard plenty of whispers that her team wouldn’t be any good this year. The Sun Prairie coaches and players laughed about that all season.
“When people would say those things, that was just like fuel to our fire,” McNabb said. “People would be like, ‘You guys aren’t going to be that good this year.’ And we’re like, ‘OK, watch us. We can take on that challenge.’ I think we excelled with that challenge.
“We went over and beyond what people even expected us to. All of us should be more than proud of this season. I’m happy with how every single one of us has played throughout.”
Sun Prairie 16 22 25 16
Oconomowoc 25 25 20 25
LEADERS — Kills: Oc 52 (Howe 13, Bingham 9, Shult 9, Alden 8); SP 47 (Addink 10, McNabb 10, Allaman 9, Braatz 7, Halbleib 6). Assists: Oc 50 (Alden 38); SP 46 (Halbleib 23, Lubahn 15). Aces: Oc 7 (Strohkirch 2, Reese 2); SP 4 (Salvatore 2, McNabb 1, Jansen 1). Digs: Oc 49 (Crawford 11, Sharkus 10, Alden 7, Strohkirch 6); SP 48 (Jansen 25, McNabb 7, Addink 7). Blocks: Oc 9 (Shult 3.5, Koch 2); SP 9 (Halbleig 2.5, Allaman 2, Braatz 2, Anderson 1.5).