Everything rode on the shoulders of junior Katie Hildebrandt.
It put to her to get the Spartans volleyball team past a very difficult Sauk Prairie squad and into the WIAA Division 2 sectionals.
With Hildebrandt serving, the Spartans scored eight straight points in the fourth set and eliminated the Eagles 3-1 to move to the sectional semifinal match Thursday, Oct. 31, at Platteville.
After Sauk Prairie won the first set 30-28, McFarland came back to win the second 25-23 and third, 25-18. The Spartans needed to capture the fourth set to close out the Eagles.
But Sauk Prairie, behind the play of Olivia Bruenig with 17 kills and Aida Shadewald with 16, recovered from an 11-5 fourth set deficit to lead McFarland 16-15.
That’s when Hildebrandt toed the service line for McFarland and quickly changed her team’s fortunes by delivering numerous aces and other offerings that coaxed Sauk Prairie into unforced errors.
McFarland led 23-16, and ended up fighting off the Eagles 25-19.
Hildebrandt admitted she was nervous when she took over the serving.
“I felt a lot of pressure, but my teammates and coaches brought up the energy levels and that made it easier to make my serves,” she said.
Libero Erin Eggers, who led the team with 29 digs, also marveled at her teammate’s ability to come through when serving.
“Her serves are just so good, and we know when we have her back there, we are going to go on a run,” Eggers said.
Head coach Trish Fortune said Hildebrandt was dialed in and carrying the team in the fourth set.
“She knew to serve the ball first and come in to play good defense,” she said. “With her height, she contacts the ball higher than other kids, and that’s a harder ball to receive.”
Sauk Prairie, the No. 6 seed in the sectional bracket, was coming off an upset win over Madison Edgewood in the first-round regional match.
The first set included 15 ties before Sauk Prairie scored the final three points to take the win. The Eagles held thin leads throughout much of the second set before McFarland broke a 16-16 tie with a four-point run to lead 20-16. The set was tied 23-23 before the Spartans won it with two straight.
McFarland led the entire third set and opened a 23-15 advantage before eventually taking the win and setting up the showdown in the fourth set.
Hildebrandt led McFarland with nine kills and six aces, Gwen Crull had four blocks, Erin Eggers came up with 29 digs, and Lizzy Fortune dished out 30 assists.
The Spartans delivered 18 service aces to beat Dodgeville 3-0 in the Oct. 24 first-round regional match. Avery Pennekamp led McFarland with 11 kills, Eggers had 14 digs, and Lizzy Fortune made 22 assists.