Demons finished as conference champs with one senior

(From left) Sawyer Dujardin, David Paul, Kale Dietz, Sam Lois, Malik Tiedt and Trey Krause walk off the court for the final time this season after Thursday’s loss at Middleton High School. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

MIDDLETON – Fresh off a sweep over higher-seeded Mukwonago, the Burlington boys volleyball team was upset-minded early in Thursday night’s WIAA sectional final against top-seeded and state-ranked Middleton.

The confident Demons jumped out to a 22-20 lead in the first set, despite a raucous Middleton legion of students, but suddenly the taller, more experienced Cardinals woke up.

After a timeout, Middleton used its defense and emphatic, floor-denting hitting to score five straight points to take the first set, and the momentum continued in a 25-20, 25-17, 25-19 victory.

“The pivotal point was late in the first set,” said Burlington coach Mike Jones. “Their defense was outstanding. I give them props for that. They hit the ball hard, and unfortunately our blocking wasn’t there.”

“It was disappointing. The boys were hyped up after the win over Mukwonago, and we felt good. We knew they had weaknesses and we could exploit them, but we didn’t exploit them. Their libero was on fire, and their middle was unstoppable. We struggled to serve-receive, which got us out of system.”

Middleton, the sixth-ranked team in the state, advances to its fifth consecutive state tournament. The Cardinals are led by eight seniors, including middle hitter Brian Vergenz, who had 13 kills and two blocks, libero Thomas Robson, who tallied 19 digs, and setter Andrew Lepage, who connected on 37 assists.

Jones said Vergenz and junior hitter Eagen Peters-Michaud were hard to stop, and the Demons’ block just wasn’t there.

Middleton head coach Ben White lauded Burlington’s effort, as the Demons lost to Middleton early in the season.

“The Demons were miles ahead of where they were earlier in the season,” White said.


Tiedt, Pesick stymied by strong defense

Burlington struggled in game two, as Middleton’s aggressive serving kept the Demons out of system, and serve-receive issues led to fewer hitting opportunities.

Burlington’s top hitters, Malik Tiedt and Drew Pesick, were limited as even the best hitting opportunities were consistently saved by Middleton’s defense, which led to instant offense. Tiedt was held to nine kills, while setter David Paul was held to 22 assists.

Burlington junior Trey Krause finished with 14 digs.

Pesick, the Demons’ lone senior who played his last high school match, became understandably emotional as he sat alone on the bleachers roughly 30 minutes after the match.

“It’s emotional because we were playing well toward the end of the season, and I think we expected to come out and play better,” he said. “We thought we’d come out winners tonight. We’re all just sad the season’s over. We’ve become so close, and we exceeded expectations this year.”

“They had strong hitting from all three positions. Their middles swung really well, and their outsides put the ball wherever they wanted. Our blocking wasn’t there.”

Tiedt said Middleton was simply better Thursday night.

“They’re a very good team, and they executed very well,” he said. “It was a great season, and it takes a team effort to win a regional championship. We made a good run for it.”

“Middleton is an overall very solid team, and they work together well.”


Demons bounce back in game three

While the Cardinals dominated in game two, the Demons turned up the intensity and execution with their backs against the wall in the final game.

Burlington led, 3-2, but Middleton used its blocking to gain a 7-3 advantage after a block kill of a Tiedt attempt. The Demons answered with a Sam Lois ace and a Sawyer Dujardin block kill to pull within 9-7.

But the Cardinals jumped back out to a 13-8 lead before Burlington junior Andy Ellingham used nice touch to drop the ball in the middle of two diving Cardinals and Pesick slammed a kill to cut the lead to 16-12. Along with improved play from Pesick in game three, Tiedt tallied several kills.

Then, Daniel Drew enjoyed a nice service run, and the Demons found themselves within one at 18-17.

Finally, though, the Cardinals again flipped a switch and utilized a 7-2 run to end it.

“We had a great season,” Paul said. “This game isn’t the end of our lives, and we’ll come back stronger next year.”

Despite only one senior, Burlington (23-10-1) went 8-0 to win the Southern Lakes Conference, secured its first regional championship since 2014 and exceeded expectations after a 2-6 conference mark and a losing record last season.

Team chemistry was the key to this season’s turnaround.

“We all got along really well, and it was the first year since I’ve been playing in high school where everyone was friends,” Tiedt said. “That’s what led to our success.”

Paul, only a sophomore, said everyone picks each other up.

“I’m always in my own head, and I’ve got teammates always getting me out of my head,” he said. “We always work together to win. We’ll come back better and stronger next year.”

“Coach Jones is like a father. He’s always been there, and he’s really supportive and knows how to lift us up.”

For Jones, this season was about bouncing back from adversity and leaning on each other, a big difference from last year.

“Last year, we struggled and got down very quickly in a match,” Jones said. “These guys loved each other and loved being together. They cheered each other on.”

“To go from 2-6 to 8-0, I’m so proud of these guys. We have the talent, and we’re still really young. This is a special team.”

Pesick, a team leader who will play basketball this winter and baseball in the spring, said this was a season he will never forget.

“It’s been the most fun season I’ve had in my career,” he said. “I can see them making it to state next year. There’s so much talent, and I think they’ll just mesh together and find ways to win, like this year.”