APPLETON — Tom Belling made sure his Kaukauna boys’ volleyball team would focus on defense heading into this season.
The Ghosts, known for years for a varied and potent offense, displayed some of the fruits of their labor on the defensive side in their key Fox Valley Association victory over Appleton North on Tuesday.
Kaukauna rallied to defeat the Lightning 17-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-16 and 15-10.
“Defense and blocking have been a priority this season,” Belling said. “We’ve always had offense and we focus so much on offense. Well, when your offense isn’t clicking, your defense can keep you in games. I don’t care what sport it is, it’s kind of that same way. We made it a bigger focus and that helped change some of the games tonight.”
Senior libero Ryan Allen was critical to the Ghosts’ defense as his prowess on the court with digs helped spark the Kaukauna offense, which features two of the top players in the area in Dalton Erdman and Zach Schmidt.
With Kaukauna trailing 2-1 in sets, the Ghosts raced to a 7-0 lead to start the fourth set then held off an Appleton North rally midway through before finishing off the Lightning and forcing a fifth set.
Schmidt, a 6-foot-4 senior middle hitter, had four kills in the set and a block kill late to spark the Ghosts.
Erdman was critical in the fifth set, finishing with five kills, including a rocket late that buoyed a 5-0 run by the Ghosts that finished off the Lightning.
“Winning the fourth (set) was our goal,” Schmidt said. “We had to win that one. Then, after that, we had the momentum going into the fifth and it just carried over from there. We had good blocks and good serves and everybody was focused and ready to make a play. That’s what we work on in practice all the time is working as a team and getting ready to make a play. It all came together at the end.”
Erdman finished with 20 kills and Schmidt added 11. Cooper Diedrich also played well at setter, finishing with 43 assists.
“It comes down to mental toughness and that’s what these games come down to,” Belling said. “Can you execute? You can’t get tentative. If you get tentative, you can’t win the game. You have to stay aggressive yet smart. And I thought our captains (Schmidt, Erdman) took over, led the team, kept them in a very positive forward motion and that’s a big deal.”
Scott Rakestraw had 15 kills to pace Appleton North, which also got 10 kills and 9 digs from Mitch Widule and 41 assists from Mitch Nussbaum.
“It’s a pretty good early-season matchup,” Appleton North coach Mike Maass said. “Obviously, there were some very good points and plays on both sides and there were also early-season mistakes and bad plays. But you’re only starting Week 3 of the season and nobody has really found their groove yet. We’ll both find our groove as the season goes on and I think we both have a good base to build on.”
KAUKAUNA 3, APPLETON NORTH 2
Kaukauna beats Appleton North 17-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-16, 15-10. Kaukauna leaders: Dalton Erdman 20 kills; Zach Schmidt 11 kills; Sam Neuber 7 kills; Ben Brochtrup 8 kills; Cooper Diederich 43 assists. Appleton North leaders: Scott Rakestraw 15 kills; Mitch Widule 10 kills, 9 digs; Ethan Strick 9 kills; Mitch Nussbaum 41 assists; Ryan Driessen 24 digs.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCRicardo
Varsity Roundtable tonight
Hortonville girls’ volleyball players Madi Walter and Emily Lautenschlager will be our guests today at 7 p.m. on Varsity Roundtable, our weekly prep sports program. Join host Ricardo Arguello for a fun and fast-paced conversation, and don’t miss the shout-out segment of every show. Watch live and chat in real-time on postcrescent.com.