The McFarland volleyball team won 30 matches in a row, and if the streak reached 31 at the Nov. 9 WIAA Division 2 state championship match, the Spartans would walk away with a state title.
Yet, Luxemburg-Casco of the North Eastern Conference turned out to be a major roadblock for the Spartans, which had to settle for the second-place silver ball trophy after a 25-21, 25-17, 25-23 defeat at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
It was an upset, as McFarland was ranked No. 1 among the four qualifying teams at state and easily took care of Bloomer the day before with a 3-0 win.
Luxemburg-Casco frustrated the Spartans and forced the team to play out of system. McFarland head coach Trish Fortune suggested her team was outmatched.
“LC had a big block and a tall front court; I can’t help but think our hitters were intimidated,” Fortune said. “LC also had a great back court and kept so many of our hits off the ground. Against a lot of other teams, some of those hits would have been kills.”
McFarland had a kill percentage of only .075 as Avery Pennekamp led the team with 13 kills and Katie Hildebrandt had nine. LC outkilled the Spartans 45-27.
Coach Fortune said her team had sizable leads in the first and third sets, but LC’s up-tempo and athleticism were too much to overcome.
“They served and hit very aggressively, and we didn’t give them tough enough balls to defend,” she said. “They are a really good team.”
Lizzy Fortune led McFarland with 25 assists and Erin Eggers had 18 digs as the Spartans ended its season with a record of 37-4.
McFarland will lose five seniors to graduation including Lizzy Fortune, Eggers, Anna Nachreiner, Claire Johnson and Peyton Witt.
Coach Fortune was pleased with the contributions they made to the volleyball program.
“I am super sad to lose this senior group,” she said. “They are not only great volleyball players but also incredible leaders and hard workers. A setter (Lizzy Fortune) and libero (Eggers) are hard to replace. Peyton’s athleticism as a defensive specialist was incredible. Anna and Claire were spirited team players that will be hard to replace as well.”
Yet, Fortune is also encouraged by the number of players returning to the team in 2020 including Nina and Gwen Crull, Maddy Fortune, Pennekamp, Hildebrandt and Hannah Rounds.
“We have a nice core of players returning,” she said. “They will step into some of the roles these seniors had very nicely. I am confident that we don’t necessarily have to rebuild but perhaps reload with the core returning group. Everyone will get better and remember how our seniors led and follow their example.”
Spartans 3, Bloomer 0
Pennekamp had 13 kills, Lizzy Fortune contributed 29 assists and Hildebrandt produced five service aces as the Spartans eliminated Bloomer in three sets in the Nov. 8 state semifinal match.
McFarland won the first set 25-18, took the second 25-15 and won 25-14 in the third set. The Spartans needed just 64 minutes to take the win and move on to the championship match.
Eggers had a team-leading 17 digs, and Nina Crull had 10 kills and seven digs.
“We were in system almost the whole match and served aggressive,” Fortune said. “We played very well, and it was fun. They couldn’t get their offense going because they were constantly out of system.”
Entering the state tournament, Fortune said her team kept its composure and felt good about its chances.
“We were ready and confident. It was an unbelievable, positive experience,” she said.
“I would say we controlled our nerves and the players were super hungry for that gold ball. For the whole post season tournament, no one ever wanted it to end and the players played their hearts out.”