Toppers dominate 5th game, look to repeat 2012 championship

The Toppers and the always entertaining #TopperFam were ecstatic Saturday night at Randolph High School, two hours from Catholic Central. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

RANDOLPH – A storied program like Catholic Central volleyball wasn’t going to be satisfied with making sectionals every year – especially after it won five state championships from 2006 to 2012.

So last year, after the Lady Toppers got oh, so close, losing in a decisive fifth game against Lourdes Academy in a WIAA Division 4 sectional final, Athletic Director Tom Aldrich decided to take a chance on a retired coach.

Wayne Schultz, the self-proclaimed “godfather” of Westosha Central boys volleyball, who started the program 20 years ago, took them to state multiple times and made stops along the volleyball coaching circuit at the collegiate level, was sitting at home, finally retired from a long career with the Falcons to focus on his grandchildren and spending more time with family.

But the chance to take over a girls program hungry to return to state, with essentially all of its starters back, intrigued Schultz.

“My biggest obstacle was my family commitments,” Schultz said. “I retired from coaching in November, then Catholic Central came calling, they were in need.”

“It’s been a great run. We like going to five, we get our backs to the wall and play our best volleyball when that happens. We’ve won 20 matches in a row, our goal is 22.”

Schultz has his girls rolling, as evidenced by another victory Saturday night, 25-18, 20-25, 25-22, 19-25, 15-9, in a WIAA Division 4 sectional final.

The historic win propels the Lady Toppers to Friday’s WIAA State Girls Volleyball tournament at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

It’s the first time Catholic Central has made state since 2012, when it completed a run of back-to-back Division 4 championships.

Burlington High School will also join the Toppers at state, courtesy of the Demons’ sweep of Westosha Central Saturday night.

The Demons won it all in 2012 in Division 1.

 

Players celebrate moments after Saturday’s win. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

A surreal feeling

Sophomore libero Grace Antlfinger, who led the Toppers in digs with 16 along with Grace Spiegelhoff, had to pinch herself after the victory.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s real,” Antlfinger said.

“I feel like we worked so hard to get to this point, that it’s surreal,” Spiegelhoff added.

“I can barely breathe, it’s crazy.”

Behind the dominant hitting of Spiegelhoff and Seib, along with scrappy, mistake-free team volleyball, Catholic Central built a 2-1 lead Saturday night in front of a small, yet loud gymnasium of blue, thanks to large contingents of Topper and Wolves fans.

Roughly half the 100 some Catholic Central enrollment was at the game, and they were passionately

Wayne Schultz, celebrating Saturday with his grandson, is one of few head coaches to take both a boys (Westosha Central, 2014) and girls varsity volleyball team to the state tournament. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

chanting “Fun-da-men-tals” with U.S.A. garb at Hilbert mistakes, which were prevalent in the opening three games.

Seib’s quick-twitch jumping ability and powerful spike yielded a game-high 22 kills, and Spiegelhoff added 14, but it was Miriam Ward’s middle presence that helped form a strong block.

Ward added 11 kills and led the team with three blocks.

Elizabeth Klein dished the ball to the tune of 46 kills.

In rhythm, the Toppers were able to score at will and neutralize the exceptional attacking style of outside hitter Makaylee Kuhn, who took over games two and four with emphatic spikes – the kind of balls that go from 12 to 6 in a heartbeat.

The Toppers overcame an early deficit to win game three thanks to smart play – keeping the ball alive, letting it fall out of bounds and aggressive serving.

Ella Shaw paced the Toppers with four aces, and Klein and Seib each added three.

Kuhn comes alive

With their backs against the wall, the Wolves rode Kuhn in game four.

They didn’t take their first lead until 18-17, when two block kills gave Hilbert a 19-17 advantage.

A Topper timeout couldn’t stop the bleeding, and Kuhn scored the final four points, behind overwhelming slams, to give Hilbert a 25-19 victory.

On the sideline, Antlfinger was visibly shaken, but team leader Spiegelhoff rallied the troops.

“I was really nervous, I was like, ‘Grace, you know how to play the game, it’s fine,’” Antlfinger said.

Spiegelhoff put her long arms around her teammates and settled them down, ahead of the biggest fifth game of their high school careers.

“Everyone, take a mental reset, we can’t change the past and we just have to look forward and have a clean slate,” Spiegelhoff said about her mini-speech.

Whatever Spiegelhoff said worked, as the Toppers erupted to a 10-4 lead behind kills from Seib, Spiegelhoff and Ward.

Suddenly, Catholic Central was up 14-7. But the Wolves got a few advantageous bounces and possibly generous calls to cut it to 14-9.

After the game-winning point, the players screamed and attempted to pile up, but had to temper their excitement for the handshake line.

Such a close, back-and-forth match couldn’t have been that lopsided in the final set, right?

“We tried to keep it simple and play our game,” Seib said. “We didn’t want to worry about any calls and just meet the ball.”

“We had more control of our serving,” Spiegelhoff added.

Sticking with what works

The Toppers congratulated the Wolves, and shortly thereafter the swarming Topper student section, 40 strong, mobbed the players on the court.

Schultz said the game four loss was tough, and he was impressed at how his squad responded.

“Four was tough for us, we had a 2-3 point lead and sideout volleyball should be enough to win, but we stopped believing for a little while,” Schultz said. “We came out in set five, and these kids have done what I’ve asked of them all year long.”

“It was about us keeping our focus and making a couple of plays. Antlfinger was strong, and my senior captains led well.”

The Toppers only have to win two matches at state, Friday and Saturday morning, and that’s the goal. For Schultz, the pressure and hype of the state tournament stage will not be too big for these girls.

“They’ve come in to work all year long, and they’ve had this monkey on their back of going to state all year. That’s been the expectation of theirs, not mine,” Schultz said. “Their heads won’t be big, we’ll be ready to play.”

Schultz took the Westosha Central boys to state three times as a head coach, and he was on the Williams Bay girls volleyball coaching staff when the Bulldogs won two state titles in the 2000s.

Personally for Schultz, it’s been four years, so it feels extra special.

For the Toppers, it’s a culmination of a few years of getting close, but ultimately falling just short.

So what’s it going to take to return Catholic Central volleyball to glory?

“We’re going to have to work hard in practice this week,” Seib said. “Try not to over-do anything, keep it simple.”

The Lady Toppers have kept it simple and just played for about two months straight, and they haven’t lost.

The Lady Toppers hoist their sectional title plaque at Randolph High School Saturday. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

 

 

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