Low energy early on played a role in No. 10 Sun Prairie's 3-1 loss to Verona in Thursday's battle of Big Eight Conference volleyball unbeatens.
The Wildcats (23-3 overall, 6-0 Big Eight) won the first two games, 25-18 and 25-14, and after Sun Prairie took the third set 25-21, won 25-18 handing the Cardinals (26-4, 5-1) their first Big Eight dual defeat since the 2017 season.
“We did not come in where we needed to be mentally and Verona came out playing outstanding lock-down defense,” said Sun Prairie head coach T.J. Rantala. “That frustrates hitters, but you expect your hitters to respond and step up; instead of playing to win we played not to lose.”
The last time Sun Prairie lost a Big Eight dual was on Oct. 3, 2017, to Verona in five sets. It ended a streak of 15 straight victories.
Coupled with some key service errors, the Cardinals struggled against the Wildcats’ lineup that included right-side hitters Megan Touchett and Delaney McIntosh and outside hitter Claudia Bobb. Bobb, just a sophomore but listed as a team captain, led the way with 14 kills and three aces.
“It was a tough one. We knew it was going to be a battle,” Rantala said.
Sun Prairie, ranked 10th in Division 1 in the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association state poll, fell behind 14-9 right out of the gate, as Touchert and Bobb combined for four kills. But a service ace by junior middle blocker Maggie Allaman followed by a kill from junior outside hitter and Minnesota-Duluth commit Payton Addink pulled the Cardinals within 18-15.
However, Verona ran off the final 10 points to take the first set, 25-18.
The Cardinals looked more like he three-time defending Big Eight champions early on in the second set taking a 4-0 lead. But a 5-0 run, capped off by a McIntosh kill, gave the Wildcats a 13-8 lead, one they would not relinquish en route to a 25-14 rout and 2-0 match advantage.
Sun Prairie rallied in the third set, winning 25-21. A 5-0 run, spearheaded by two Kirsten Anderson kills, gave the Cards a 16-9 lead. Verona closed the gap to 23-19, but SP held on to force a fourth game.
Senior captain K.J. McNabb finished with a team-high 11 kills, but struggled most of the night as four of those came in the closing moments of the fourth and final game, one the Cardinals lost 25-18.
“I think K.J. took K.J. out of the game early,” Rantala said of the Loyola University commit. “She let herself get frustrated when (Verona’s) Amelia (Hust) was digging the ball. She was able to come back strong later.”
McNabb and Addink each made nine digs, Anderson finished with three blocks, and junior setter Josie Halbleib had 19 assists.
Sun Prairie will look to rebound Thursday traveling to Madison La Follette. Play begins at 6:30 p.m.
The Cardinals then participate in Saturday’s Neenah Invitational with play starting at 8:30 a.m.