Steve Scheuerell will be the first to tell you that his Appleton North squad isn’t loaded with elite players.
The Lightning just has a lot of good players who play great together.
That combination can take a team a long way and it has catapulted Appleton North into the WIAA state girls’ volleyball tournament for the first time since 1998.
The Lightning, a second seed, captured a Division 1 sectional championship with a 3-0 victory over top-seeded Appleton East Saturday at Ashwaubenon High School.
North will open state tournament play Thursday at the Resch Center with a 4:30 p.m match against Sun Prairie.
“This feels amazing,” said North senior outside hitter Kiera Miller. “This has always been a dream of ours, all four years. All the seniors feel like we’ve left a great legacy. Going to state is going to be insane. The atmosphere is going to just be awesome.”
North finished in a third-place tie with Kimberly in the Fox Valley Association behind FVA champion Neenah and East, but the cohesive Lightning secured the state tournament berth by taking out the Patriots with poised, polished play.
“I can’t put this into words — I can’t stop smiling,” said North senior outside hitter Halle Giaimo. “It’s a crazy feeling. I can’t believe we did it. It’s a dream come true.”
The key might have been the Lightning’s 28-26 victory in the opening set. North trailed most of the way, but rallied to tie the score at 23 on Miller’s laser shot for a kill. East reclaimed the lead at 25-24 but North scored four of the last five points.
“Our kids just play so well as a team,” said Scheuerell. “We don’t have those dominant players, but someone always seems to step up for us.”
North never lost the momentum. The Lightning followed up with a 25-18 win in the second set, then rallied late in the match to finish off East with a 25-23 victory in the final set.
North trailed by a 22-17 deficit in the finale, but came alive down the stretch and fired off eight of the final nine points to lock up the sectional title.
Kiera Miller sparked the Lighting in the final set with several outstanding plays and finished with nine kills and four digs. Giaimo topped the Lightning with 10 kills and two blocks, and freshman Jenna Miller had nine kills and two blocks.
“Really, we had no business winning the first and third sets,” said Scheuerell. “This team just has great chemistry and plays together. We knew we had a chance to do this going into the season. We wrote it down as one of our goals and it’s great to see the kids accomplish this.”
Junior outside hitter Makenzie Morgen led the Patriots with eight kills and 19 digs.
“North is a well-rounded team and they play scrappy defense,” said East coach Krista Sitek. “They did a nice job of keeping the ball alive with their defense and their hitters did a good job of putting the ball down.”
APPLETON NORTH 3,
APPLETON EAST 0
Appleton North beat Appleton East 28-26, 25-18, 25-23
Appleton East leaders: Mackenzie Wockenfus 21 assists, 18 digs; Nicole Coenen 5 digs, 2 kills; Emily Habeck 2 kills, 3 blocks, 6 digs; Linsey Stanislaus 5 digs; Makenzie Morgen 8 kills, 19 digs; Mayra Villagomez 6 kills; Mady DeWitt 5 kills; Megan Schweitzer 18 digs.
Appleton North leaders: Kiera Miller 9 kills, 4 digs, 1 ace; Maddie Ingraham 4 kills, 2 blocks; Jenna Miller 9 kills, 2 blocks; Halle Giaimo 10 kills, 2 blocks; Clare Christopher 11 digs; Emily Rohloff 15 assists; Callie Pohlman 12 digs, 10 assists, 5 aces.