ASHWAUBENON —The common coach speak is that each championship team is as special as the ones that came before.
Newman Catholic’s Betty Lange broke from that script a bit Saturday morning.
“Probably my favorite. Don’t tell anybody else this,” the Cardinals coach said at the start of a media conference following Newman Catholic’s four-set win over Southwestern in the WIAA Divsion 4 state girls volleyball championship game.
Mariah Whalen had 29 kills, and Abbey Fox and Rylie Vaughn had 25 and 19 assist, respectively, as the Cardinals pulled out the 23-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-20 victory at the Resch Center. Newman Catholic (40-1), became the eighth program to win three straight titles, and it is the ninth time the feat has been accomplished in the 43 year history of the tournament.
This year’s championship stood out for Lange, however.
“I think it’s because of the group that we have and the way that they fought out there,” Lange said. “They made huge plays, and everybody really contributed to our win today.”
It was the second straight year that the Cardinals beat Southwestern in the title match. The Wildcats (27-2) started five seniors and trailed just twice in the opening set win, never more than by a point. With the set tied 11-11, Southwestern scored eight of the next 10 points to take control. It was only the ninth set that Newman Catholic lost this fall.
Michelle Budden had 22 kills to lead Southwestern, while Madison Kuhl had a team-high 26 assists. Melissa Tranel and Claire Splinter had 13 and 10 digs, respectively, and Budden and Miranda Kemp both had two solo blocks for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats had a 19-17 lead in the second set before the Cardinals scored the final eight points to close out the set. That momentum carried over to the third set as Newman Catholic won eight of the first 11 points, and Southwestern never got closer than two points the rest of the way.
“I think they started to serve more aggressive. They were going to win on their serves or lose on their serves,” Southwestern coach Jane Wills said. “They did take us out of rotation and had us scrambling there for awhile. At the beginning (Newman) was hesitant (serving) and just kind of gave us the ball. We were able to handle that and stay in our system.”
A Cardinals called a timeout just prior to going on the key run.
“We were talking about how we wanted to vocalize everything and play our hearts out,” Vaughn said. “I guess (the message was). ‘Just play and don’t get in your head. Just have a whole lot of fun.’ And I think that game definitely was.”
Wills said defending Whalen was a challenge throughout the day as the Cardinals junior had 57 attacks, second-highest in the match to Budden’s 70.
“We had our eye on her all day and shut her down many, many times. We blocked her, we dug her and did what we could,” Wills said. “We knew that she was going to get some kills today, but we got some kills.”
Whalen finished with a .333 hitting percentage in the title game and had the kill on match point. .
“They put up a good block and they play really good defense. It just took awhile to find the holes in their game,” Whalen said. “Just getting blocked a couple times it’s like, ‘Hey, Mariah, you’re playing bad. You just have to play better.'”
Lange said the team in general knew it had to pick up its play after the opening set.
“I think that any time you play a match, it takes awhile to figure everything out (about an opponent) and get settled in, especially in the state tournament,” Lange said. “I think it just took a little bit of time and then (the players) got their heads straight. They knew what it was all about and they weren’t going to let anything get in their way.”