The turning point this season for the Appleton North girls volleyball team may have come against a familiar foe that will be joining them at the WIAA state tournament at the Resch Center today.
The Lightning, making their second state appearance in three years, dropped a Fox Valley Association match to Neenah on Oct. 8. The loss helped galvanize the North players and the team finished the season strong and that momentum continued into the postseason, where the Lightning have yet to drop a set in wins over over Green Bay Southwest, Kimberly and Hortonville.
North (34-9) plays Greendale (44-3) in a state quarterfinal today at 4:30 p.m. Neenah (30-13) faces Oconomowoc (29-3) in another state quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m.
Division 1 semifinals are at 7 p.m. Friday, with the title game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We kind of hit a wall when we lost to Neenah,” North coach Steve Scheuerell said. “That was a good loss for us I think, because it made us re-evaluate what we want. We can’t worry about making games bigger than they are. After that, we went down to Westosha and played some great teams like Burlington and were able to get a game off them. It made us get back to thinking about how much we love this game and that it’s more about the process and the moments rather than one game. It’s an all-season thing.
“We played in the FVA tournament and we beat (Neenah) there. It helped give us some positive flow into the playoffs and we haven’t dropped a set yet. The girls are playing with so much passion and energy.”
Appleton North senior rightside hitter Amanda Rohrs said her team looked at the setback as a new beginning for the Lightning following the Neenah loss.
“I definitely think we bought into the idea,” she said. “We wanted to start fresh and we looked at it as a new season. We started playing a lot better and jelling better. Everything has gotten better, too.”
The Lightning has a solid core of hitters including junior Jenna Miller (325 kills), senior Alyssa Wolslegel (179), sophomore Mikaylah Van Lanen (190), Rohrs (135) and junior Callie Pohlman (112).
Senior Emily Rohloff (560 assists) and junior Maddy Ahrens run the show at setter for North, with junior libero Carissa Beyer leading in digs (540).
Greendale’s top hitters include Lauren Litzau (295 kills), Ally Bialo (259) and Kayce Litzau (212).
“We played them last year in a tournament and we beat them in three,” Scheuerell said. “We both have similar teams coming back this year. They’re a really good ball-control team that doesn’t make many errors.”
Rohrs said the Lightning are happy to see Neenah on the other side of the bracket. She said the two teams know each other well, with some players playing on the same club teams.
“I think it’s really cool to see two teams from the FVA at state,” she said. “A lot of us know each other because we play with each other during the club season. We know that they’re going to be there and that we’re both going to give each other support.”
Rockets ready for Oconomowoc
Looking for some unsung heroes in the Neenah volleyball team’s road to the state tournament?
How about freshman outside hitter Addie Barnes and freshman libero Kayla Kraus? The two first-year players have made immense strides this season and have proven themselves to be valuable contributors.
“I give a lot of credit to older players in helping them along,” Neenah coach Bruce Moriarty said. “I think our assistant coaches (Brandon Kirkland, Emily Bennett, Tommy Moriarty and AJ Moriarty) have also done a great job of teaching them the nuances. But they are definitely ahead of the curve from where I thought they would be.
“(Kraus) has been phenomenal. She’s a bit like a quarterback and a point guard in a way. I know setters are the same way, too. And Addie as an outside hitter gets the ball a ton. She’s handling it like a veteran.”
Kraus has 547 digs on the season with Barnes contributing 270 kills. Junior standout and Marquette recruit Hope Werch leads the team with 417 kills, with senior Bailey Ramich (217), junior Bethany Heinz (150) and senior Sydney Booher (112) also tallying more than 100 kills on the season.
Senior setter Shannon Recktenwald leads in assists (506), with junior Morgan Schreck also doing a fine job running the offense (417 assists).
Also key for Neenah is the serving of junior Mikayla Butts, who leads the Division 1 field with 101 aces.
Ramich, one of the team’s captains, said Kraus and Barnes have been an important part of the team’s success.
“By looking at them, you couldn’t really tell they were freshmen,” Ramich said. “They blend right in to the group. And they bring so much to the group. It’s really incredible.”
Ramich added that team cohesiveness is a primary reason why they’ve returned to the Resch Center.
“It’s really an amazing feeling to be able to go back there,” she said. “I think the biggest reason is because of our great team chemistry. We mesh so well on and off the court. When game situations come around, we connect really well together.”
Oconomowoc has strong net play, led by 6-foot senior rightside hitter Leah Fenske (258 kills) and 5-9 outside hitter Heather Moutvic (224 kills).
“They’re fast and athletic,” Bruce Moriarty said. “It’s going to be a good test for us to see if we can handle the athleticism. They have two good rightside attackers. And they’re pretty balanced.”
Ramich said for the team to advance to Friday’s semifinals, the Rockets have to approach the quarterfinal like any other FVA contest.
“We need to go out there and play like it’s any other game because it really is,” Ramich said. “We need to go out there and play volleyball like we know how to play. And the second thing we need to do is just enjoy it, because it’s state and we really need to make a memory out of this. We have gotten so far together, so let’s enjoy it and make the best out of state this year.”
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo
RESCH CENTER, ASHWAUBENON
D.C. Everest (31-7) vs. Divine Savior Holy Angels (43-5), 4:30 p.m.
Appleton North (34-9) vs. Greendale (44-3), 4:30 p.m.
Verona (33-5) vs. Burlington (42-3), 7:30 p.m.
Neenah (30-13) vs. Oconomowoc (29-3), 7:30 p.m.
Semifinals, 7 p.m.
Championship, 4:35 p.m.