KAUKAUNA — The Kaukauna boys volleyball team is hoping to make Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee its own version of a block party.
The Ghosts, ranked No. 1 in the final Wisconsin Boys Volleyball Coaches Association poll, have been led this season by their defense and one of the strengths of that unit is strong net play.
Kaukauna (38-3) takes on Marquette University High School (14-10) in a WIAA state quarterfinal match at 8 p.m. Friday. The winner will play in a semifinal at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the championship match at 6 p.m.
“Blocking has been contagious and I would say that’s the biggest thing that we’ve really turned up is our blocking,” Kaukauna coach Tom Belling said. “And then we play defense around it and they’ve really taken pride in it. And I think, at the end of the day, everyone knows defense wins championships.
“It’s been a great thing and, honestly, we’re playing our best volleyball right now.”
Kaukauna’s top stuffers this year have been 6-foot-4 senior middle blocker Zach Schmidt (58 blocks) and 6-3 senior outside hitter Dalton Erdman (52). Seniors Sam Neuber (32) and Cooper Diedrich (26) have also added 25 or more blocks this season.
It’s the defense that may be the biggest difference when comparing this team to other recent Kaukauna squads, including the 2011 team that reached the state title game, where it lost to Marquette.
Kaukauna also reached the 2013 quarterfinals and is making its 20th overall appearance at the state tournament.
“I feel like we’re one of the best teams that I’ve been a part of,” Neubert said. “We get along on and off the court, so that always helps.”
Belling said the players realize the great opportunity that’s ahead of them.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “They played at a different level and with a purpose all year long. Conference championships are great, getting to state is great. But they’re ready to start putting some gold balls in the cabinet. That’s where their mindset has been and I think they’re pretty motivated to get there.”
“We have eight seniors on our team and we all get that this might be our last opportunity to step on the court with each other, so we’re putting all of our efforts into it to see if we can get a gold ball,” Neubert said.
Kaukauna defeated the Hilltoppers 2-1 earlier this season at the Middleton Invite. Outside hitter Stephen Roenitz leads the Hilltoppers with 244 kills, with Evan Dorschner (6-2) adding 218 kills. Sophomore setter Conor Ward runs the offense with 567 assists.
Erdman leads Kaukauna with 372 kills, with Diedrich the top distributor with 705 assists.
Marquette won the state title last season and has a rich history. Belling knows that the Hilltoppers provide a tough opening test in the Ghosts’ quest to secure a state title.
“We did get them this year, but we haven’t beaten them a ton in the past and the guys are certainly aware of that. They’re kind of sick of that as well,” Belling said. “So, again, no easy path. We have a tough first-round test already. Marquette is a very good team and I like how we match up against them. We have a lot of weapons around the court and we pose a lot of matchup problems for most teams. We certainly do against them as well.”
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo
WIAA State Volleyball
Where: Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee
Friday’s matches: Quarterfinals: Kettle Moraine (28-5) vs. Kenosha Indian Trail (25-9), 12:30 p.m.; New Berlin Eisenhower/West (28-5) vs. Middleton (23-10), 3 p.m.; Germantown (35-6) vs. Brookfield East (18-8), 5:30 p.m.; Kaukauna (38-3) vs. Marquette (14-10), 8 p.m.
Saturday’s matches: Semifinals, 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.; championship, 6 p.m.