GREEN BAY — Everything was going smoothly, but it quickly ended in disappointment.
For the second straight weekend, the Sun Prairie volleyball team had a shot at winning an invitational, but both times the Cardinals came up just short.
Sun Prairie won its first five matches without losing a set before the final match of the day pitted the Cardinals against fellow undefeated Pewaukee in the de facto championship at the annual Tom Larsen Triton Classic at Notre Dame Academy on Saturday.
Things looked good for Sun Prairie after taking the opening set (25-17), but Pewaukee didn’t let down and took the final two sets (25-19, 12-15) to win the title.
The Cardinals players were visibly dejected leaving the court following the loss.
“I personally hate to lose,” Sun Prairie senior captain KJ McNabb said. “I don’t like losing to anyone, but it happens and we’ve just got to take it and move forward. You can’t dwell on one loss, it’s early in the season. We’ve got a long way to go, but obviously we’re disappointed.”
Sun Prairie, which came into the tournament ranked No. 8 in Division 1 in the latest Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association poll, started the tournament by beating Luxemburg-Casco (25-14, 25-21). The Cardinals then downed De Pere (25-15, 25-12), Greendale (25-17, 25-7), Southern Door (25-11, 25-12) and Notre Dame (25-18, 25-9).
“All those matches should have gone the way they did, but I didn’t think we would walk through them as easily as we did,” Sun Prairie coach T.J. Rantala said. “I knew we’d win them all, but I didn’t think it would be that easy. That comes back to haunt you, too. Pewaukee had to work today. We didn’t have to work until this one (the final match).”
Sun Prairie (14-2) led Pewaukee 9-8 in the opening set when the Cardinals rattled off six consecutive points with Haley Winter on the service line. The Pirates closed their gap to 20-17, but Cardinals middle blocker Kirsten Anderson registered a block to up her team’s lead. A kill by Payton Addink ended the set with a 25-19 victory.
The second was knotted at 18-18 when Pewaukee scored four straight points forcing Rantala to call a pair of timeouts. Addink got a point to make it 24-19, but the Pirates closed it out on the very next serve.
“It was like 18-18 and we started to get out of system a little bit,” McNabb said. “The other team had good serves, but we just didn’t move our feet, we weren’t there. The third set we picked it up. I honestly thought that was a good game, we were out of system, but we were scoring still.”
The Cardinals were up 9-3 to start the third set, but the Pirates went on a 10-2 run to take a 13-11 advantage. A service error by Pewaukee gave Sun Prairie a window to get back in it, but back-to-back points by the Pirates ended it, 15-12.
“(Pewaukee) did a really nice job getting themselves in system and we struggled,” Rantala said. “We rely on serving tough and taking teams out of system, and we’ve got to find a way to win when teams are in system.”
After falling in the second set against Pewaukee, the Sun Prairie players could have easily given up and not played hard in the final set. However, that didn’t happen. The girls battled.
“There’s a lot of fight,” Rantala said. “I think offensively we’re strong, but we’re still working on our defense. I saw improvements from last week to this week, which is nice.”
McNabb had a great day at the tournament, tallying 43 kills. Josie Halbleib led the way with 88 assists and eight blocks. Addink had a team-high 23 assists and Anderson had 8.5 blocks. Emily Mickelson registered 37 digs and was all over the court.
“Emily player really well today,” Rantala said. “She was more aggressive today and nice to get our middles involved.”
Rantala is hoping the loss in the championship game for the second consecutive week motivates her girls to work even harder.
“You’ve got to get better every day at practice and you’ve got to come in and work on those things that need to be highlighted,” Rantala said. “You’re just not good enough, and that’s OK. It’s still early, but we’ve got to get better.”
The loss stings a bit for McNabb and her teammates, but just 14 games into the season, there’s plenty of time to learn from the mistakes.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but I think we’ve had a great start to the season,” McNabb said. “We have a great team; we have great chemistry. We’ve got people at every single position that can score, back row or front row. We have people there all around the court, which is a really, really big thing. I think moving forward we just need to work on our clicking with pass to set to kill — when we’re out of system, how we handle it.
“This loss doesn’t define our season at all, it’s early. We’ve got a lot that we’re going to do.”
SUN PRAIRIE 3
MADISON EAST 0
The Cardinals made quick work of Madison East winning 25-9, 25-11, 25-11 to begin their Big Eight Conference title defense.
McNabb led the way with nine kills and seven aces, while Halbleib had 16 assists and a block.
Addink and Winter rounded out the win with five digs apiece.
Sun Prairie returns to Big Eight play Tuesday and Thursday, hosting Madison Memorial Tuesday while traveling to Beloit Memorial Thursday.