The Dutch made this one look easy. Just bump, set, spike … and win.
Oostburg’s volleyball team strong-armed its way to a 3-0 shutout over Grantsburg Friday in a Division 3 state semifinal match inside Green Bay’s Resch Center, granting the Flying Dutchmen a chance at a second consecutive state championship.
“I just thought we played with great energy,” Oostburg coach Scott Greupink said. “We flew around after the ball and made a lot of great plays.”
The Dutch will play at 12:30 p.m. today against Oconto in a state championship match at the Resch Center.
Friday’s win puts Oostburg just one match away from achieving something the volleyball team has never done before: winning back-to-back state titles.
The Dutch have had chances to do so in the past, but rarely has the team strung together a pair of seasons with such remarkably consistent success.
After edging Spencer in a five-set victory in last year’s state championship, Oostburg erupted out of the starting gates this year in a season dedicated to defending the team’s title. The Flying Dutchmen accrued 12 straight wins this season — all shutouts — before finally losing their first match against Plymouth.
The Dutch hit a rough patch — if you could call it that — in the UW-Oshkosh tournament in September, when Oostburg settled for 11th place after dropping matches to Milton, Rhinelander and Lodi. But the Dutch have responded with more than 20 consecutive wins since then, including Friday’s rout against the Pirates.
“It feels awesome knowing that we’ve put all the work into it and that it’s coming true,” junior Jo-Leigh VerVelde, who had a team-high 15 kills in Friday’s victory, said of the Dutchmen’s second straight year of state limelight success.
Oostburg has made back-to-back appearances at State twice before — in 1988 and ’89, and again in 2006 and ’07 — but didn’t win the championship in any of those years. The Dutchmen’s first volleyball state title came in 1994, and their second one came in 2011.
“It’s a really amazing feeling,” Jocelyn Stemper, who had 22 digs Friday, said of the Dutchmen’s opportunity at a historic second consecutive title. “Not many people get to have this feeling, and we’re a lucky team to have it.”
Oostburg has consistently been ranked No. 1 among Division 3 teams in the state this year in Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association polls. Grantsburg climbed to eighth place in the WVCA’s final poll, released last month, making Oostburg the decided on-paper favorite coming into Friday’s match.
The Dutch got off to a slow start Friday — by the time they held a 16-15 lead in the match’s opening set, they had traded leads with the Pirates seven times. But Oostburg eventually caught a hot streak that saw the team jump ahead to a 25-20 win.
The Dutch handled the second set in far easier fashion, climbing out to as much as a nine-point lead and never really easing up on the reins en route to a 25-17 win.
In the third set, Oostburg trailed early — by as many as four points at one time — but came back and eventually held on for a 25-23 win despite a late comeback rally by Grantsburg.
“We played pretty good. We played solid,” Greupink said, noting he was pleased his athletes controlled momentum throughout much of Friday’s match.
VerVelde said Oostburg took advantage of Grantsburg’s relatively short players (none of the Pirates measured taller than 6 feet): “We had a very big height difference compared to them, and it helped us because they had to slow their game down …”
That advantage won’t be there today for the Dutch, though, whose tallest athlete — 6-foot-1 Abby VanStelle, the only Oostburg player who can boast hitting the 6-foot mark — will have to contend with Oconto’s two big 6-footers: Sara DePouw and Carlee Behnke.
DePouw has proved to be a particularly lethal weapon for Oconto, racking up more than 550 kills for the Blue Devils this year — including 39 in a 3-1 state semifinal win Friday over Cuba City.
Oconto has been red-hot all season, accruing a 37-1 record coming into today’s match. Oostburg enters today’s championship 42-4.
“They’re very good. We’re going to have to play extremely good,” Greupink said of Oconto, a team that finished the season ranked second — just one spot behind Oostburg — in the WVCA’s final poll last month. Both teams were seeded No. 1 in their postseason sectional brackets. “They’re big, and they’re going to be, again, very difficult to deal with at the net.”