Burlington def. Westosha Central, 25-15, 20-25, 25-21, 25-16

The Burlington volleyball girls pose after their big victory Tuesday night. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

PADDOCK LAKE – All season, the Burlington varsity girls volleyball players knew a conference championship was within reach, but the road to glory had to go through arch-rival Westosha Central.

The Falcons, not ranked in the state’s top 10 entering Tuesday night’s Southern Lakes home tilt against the 3rd-ranked Demons, the rivals’ first meeting of the season, demonstrated their usual spunk and fight in front of a packed, raucous gymnasium.

But much like the Demons have done since their last loss in late September at the Sprawl, they cruised to victory.

Burlington stepped on the gas late, breaking a 1-1 tie behind the strong right arm of Coley Haggard, a stingy block and an impenetrable defense in a 3-1 victory.

The Demons improved to 32-4 overall, while the Falcons dropped to 29-10.

Burlington won the SLC with a 7-0 record, while Central finishes 6-1.

Ball control was a big factor throughout the match, as the Demons limited powerful Westosha hitters Laura Shoopman and Sierra Lee.

And while senior setter Kennedy Muff, who recently broke the school’s all-time assists record, was able to sneak in a backwards tip kills periodically, Emily Alan and Kaley Blake’s middle defense was hard to overcome.

With strong serving and passing, Blake was able to set up Haggard, Maddie Berezowitz and Grace Peyron, among others, in rhythm all night long.

At times, Haggard was unstoppable. She finished with 19 kills and only one hitting error for an astonishing .581 hitting percentage.

 

Always big to beat Westosha

After the match, Burlington co-head coach Teri Little was business as usual, but acknowledged it was a big win.

“Obviously, it’s a great way to finish our conference season,” Little said. “We knew this was going to be a high-pressure, intense match. Their home court, their Senior Night, we expected them to bring their best game.”

“Adrenaline caused a bit of tenseness and maybe not as clean of volleyball, but it was aggressive and passionate on both sides. For us, it was about maintaining our composure and controlling our first contact, to allow our offense to set up. We wanted to prevent them from utilizing their main weapons.”

Burlington fired out to a 14-3 lead in game one and wasn’t really challenged.

While Laren Baldowsky provided offense with a quick-tip kill, Mackenzie Leach added an ace early. Berezowitz finished off the Falcons with a kill to cap the victory.

But the Falcons woke up on game two, answering with a 17-11 start after a Lee kill, which forced a second Demon timeout in the game.

Berezowitz provided some senior leadership both vocally and through her play to help the Demons cut the lead to 21-19, but Westosha finished 4-1 behind Muff and Shoopman to tie things up at 1-1.

The final two games saw Burlington regain control with crisp passing, jump serves and stellar defense. The Demons’ pressure forced hitting errors from Westosha.

Alan, Peyron and Berezowitz helped turn an 8-7 advantage into a 25-21 win, and the Demons poured it on in game four.

Haggard hammered home some crucial kills in the fourth game, and the Falcons never got closer than five points after hanging early.

 

They wanted this all season

For the match, Berezowitz pitched in nine kills, to go with Alan’s eight and Peyron’s seven.

The team combined for seven aces.

Blake dished out 40 assists and dug 20, while Sam Naber added 16 digs, often after crashing hard on the wooden floor.

Alan and Baldowsky each totaled three blocks and made life difficult for Central’s hitters.

“We’ve been waiting for this game the whole season,” Alan said after the match. “It was definitely a huge win for us. This is the first time we played Westosha, and we just really came out and fought with them.”

“The energy was great from the bench and the team, and we rallied together and pulled this off,” Haggard added.

Haggard, the team’s leading hitter, has been the offensive closer all season.

Alan showed an ability to thrive offensively and defensively.

“We were definitely working on our blocking and blocking more Zone 1 (in the final two games), because that’s where Laura Shoopman was hitting,” Alan said.

For Haggard, it’s about both finesse and power when hitting.

“I’m looking to place the ball, see the block and get it down,” she said.

Alan and Haggard said their culture is about team chemistry.

That will be tested by Central and others Saturday at Waterford for the SLC tournament. Then, the state championship defense officially begins next weekend.

“Our culture shapes the way we play and makes us want to win very game,” Haggard said. “Hopefully, we can make it back to state this year.”

For Little, who said Haggard’s hitting percentage was “unbelievable,” it’s on to the next one.

“We must continue to stay goal-oriented,” Little said. “As happy as we are, we’re going to go back, look at film and try to find ways to continue to improve.”

 

 

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