WAUPUN – When the Waupun girls volleyball team practiced after school Monday, they noticed some of the alumni watching — some that even won state championships.
It was something the Warriors — who are making their first trip to the WIAA Division 2 State Tournament since 2010 — appreciated because it was exactly what they needed as they get ready to play a very good Tomahawk team.
The fifth-ranked Warriors (37-11) will face the third-ranked Hatchets (33-3) at 2 p.m. Friday in the D2 state semifinal game at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
“You can tell, there is just a big difference,” Waupun junior Kyra Verheyen said about the intensity this week as it gets ready for state. “We had some alumni in the gym and it’s like the atmosphere that we want. Practice is at a high level all week and I think it was a really good first practice.”
This is the first time any of the girls have made it to state, so for the seniors, it was a great feeling knowing that some of the former players were there supporting a program that has made 16 state appearances, winning 11 of them. The last time the Warriors took home the gold ball was in 2008.
“This is our time to show that we can do what they have done in the past,” Taylor Brown said. “To be a part of the Waupun program, having the name on our back brings so much more to the court. It’s a great atmosphere knowing that we are a part of a program so big.”
Before the Warriors can even think about bringing back another gold ball to the trophy case, they will have to deal with a Tomahawk team that has only three losses. Two of its losses have come to two teams that made state as well — Merrill (D1) and Newman Catholic (D4). Its other loss came to Union Grove — who lost in the sectional semifinal to Muskego, another D1 state participant.
“We know quite a bit about Tomahawk,” said Waupun co-coach Krista Baisch, who was a part of a Waupun team that won three titles in the 90s. “We played them last year, we have followed them this year in watching them. They are ranked third, and one of those reasons is because they haven’t lost a whole lot of matches.
“One of those reasons is because they have a talented left side.”
Like it did over the win against Luxemburg-Casco on Saturday, Waupun will have to go up against some big outside hitters. Tomahawk’s offensive leader Anna Nyberg — a six-foot-senior — has 519 kills on the season. The Hatchets also have a 5-foot-11 girl in Hanna Meyer who has 307 kills.
“They go to their outsides a whole lot so me and Claiborn (Bronkhorst) really need to watch our girls,” senior Taylor White said.
One of the biggest reasons Tomahawk has such a successful kill rate is because of its setter. Becca Doughty has 1,157 assists this season, which is third in the state. Waupun’s Kyra Verheyen is fourth in the state with 1, 155.
Besides going up against a defense where Waupun feels like it has an advantage, the Warriors will go into the game with the same plan they had against Luxemburg-Casco.
“We know that they have a good outside hitter and a really weird defense,” said senior Blake Buchholz, who has 521 kills on the year. “We’re going to use that defense to our advantage, that’s for sure. We just have to defend their big outside.”
“We are viewing our game plan as we did in the LC match,” Waupun co-coach Kurt Breier added. “They are really outside heavy so that’s the person we need to make sure to concern ourselves with. We need to keep them from having an amazing game.”
Tomahawk has some other big wins this season, including wins over Platteville and Catholic Central (twice), two teams that are on the other side of the D2 bracket. The Hatchets also beat Kimberly, who made it to state in Division 1.
Unlike Waupun, a few of the Tomahawk seniors got to experience state. The Hatches are making their fifth straight appearance in the state tournament, making it four years in a row from 2009 to 2012 after missing out last year. They were state runner-ups in 2011.
Some of the Waupun girls said that nerves haven’t kicked in yet, but once they step foot inside the arena things might change. But Waupun has played in some big games so that will help, too.
“I’ll be nervous once I’m there, but we want it so much that I think it evens out,” added Bronkhorst.
“With how much the team has played together in the past, the chemistry we have talked about, that will help them out,” Breier added. “We have played in big matches before and we kind of worked our way up to this.”
Alex Wolf: (920) 907-7933 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Waupun (37-11) vs. Tomahawk (33-3)
• WIAA Division 2 State Semifinal
• Friday, 4 p.m.
• Resch Center