GREEN BAY — From the opening serve until the final point Sun Prairie didn’t play scared against top-ranked Hartland Arrowhead in the quarterfinals of the WIAA Division 1 State Girls Volleyball Tournament.
The eighth-seeded Cardinals gave the top-seeded and top-ranked Warhawks all they could handle, winning the first set before succumbing 25-22, 14-25, 20-25, 25-27 Thursday at the Resch Center.
“On paper that should have been a blowout,” said Sun Prairie head coach T.J. Rantala. “It definitely wasn’t. I’m very proud of how the girls came out tonight and battled for every single point.”
Sun Prairie (41-8), playing in their second-straight WIAA state finals and fifth state tournament since 2012, opened Arrowhead’s eyes early earning a first-set win, and nearly took the match to a fifth set.
The Cardinals didn’t show any signs of your typical state tournament nerves taking a quick 5-3 lead in the opening set. A kill by senior outside hitter K.J. McNabb snapped a 21-21 tie, before a double block by juniors Payton Addink and Maggie Allaman gave SP a 24-22 advantage.
Arrowhead’s Elise Schneider hit a return into the net on set-point delivering Sun Prairie the stunning 25-22 victory.
“I don’t think we were scared,” said McNabb, who had 12 kills and nine digs. “We played our game, we fought, and I think we proved ourselves. I think (Arrowhead) was nervous to play us after that (first set).
The Warhawks, behind University of Notre Dame recruit Aubrey Hamilton, showed why they are the No. 1-ranked Division 1 team by the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association winning the next two sets, 25-14 and 25-20, to take a 2-1 advantage.
“They had two big runs on us,” said Rantala. “Volleyball is a game of momentum and when it’s on your side things can go great, but when it’s not on your side, you just want to stop the bleeding.”
Hamilton recorded 11 of her match-high 26 kills during the two-game swing.
“You think you’re closing the block or think you’re set up with her perfectly and then she hits around you; it’s frustrating mentally and you just have to adjust to good players like that,” said Sun Prairie senior middle blocker Kirsten Anderson, who had four total blocks.
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter finished with 56 total attacks for a .286 hitting percentage, while adding 16 digs and two service aces.
“She proved that she is the player that she is,” Rantala said. “We got a couple of stops on her and got a couple of digs on her and some big blocks on her, but she does what she does. There’s a reason people know her name.”
Down two games to one Sun Prairie was in that very position in last week’s sectional final with Waunakee, before rallying for the 3-2 victory.
The Cardinals fell behind early before a 6-0 run propelled themt o a 14-10 advantage. No point was bigger than senior Mia Livingston’s block of Hamilton that tied it at 10-all.
“It’s been really exciting this year getting to play more and making it this far; it was incredible, especially being a senior,” said Livingston, who had three block assists.
Arrowhead built a 22-19 lead when Hamilton delivered one of her explosive kills before Addy Preston had a service ace.
Sun Prairie rallied back, however, as junior Payton Addink registered back-to-back kills bringing the score to 24-22.
Playing for their season, the Cardinals continually pushed the Warhawks to the limit before Hamilton’s kill made it 26-25. Addink’s kill attempt then hit the antenna ending both the match and Sun Prairie’s season.
“We come out of the Madison area and that’s a different look; a lot of the Milwaukee area and Fox Valley area are big D1 teams and people tend to look past us — all week long about a number is a number and we deserve to be at the state tournament like everybody else — We’re just as good as those teams and tonight it was just a couple of points different,” Rantala said. “We played really well.”
“We battled, that’s what we wanted to do when we came in. You hate to end it this way, but a lot of good things (happened).”
Junior outside hitter and University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit Payton Addink led Sun Prairie with 13, junior setter Josie Halbleib had 35 assists and senior libero Emily Mickelson finished with 10 digs.
Arrowhead went on to win the Division 1 title, its first in program history, beating Burlington 3-0 in the semifinals and Oconomowoc 3-0 in the finals … Sun Prairie was the only team to take a game from Arrowhead … Luxemburg-Casco (Div. 2), Howards Grove (Div. 3) and Clear Lake (Div. 4) claimed the other girls state titles, while in boys state play Kimberly upended Germantown 3-1 in the championship game.