Toppers set D4 state ace record, battle at 9 a.m. Saturday for state title

Catholic Central freshman Kelsee Weis (middle) is all kinds of fired up with her teammates, a mere seconds after the Toppers knocked off Newman Catholic Friday morning at the WIAA state volleyball tournament in Green Bay at the Resch Center, across the street from famed Lambeau Field. CC will battle Clayton for the D4 state championship Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Stay tuned to @mikeramczyk17 and @PrepsReport on Twitter, along with the Burlington Standard Press and SLN Racine County Facebook pages throughout the day and Saturday for updates from Catholic Central, Burlington and East Troy volleyball. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

By Mike Ramczyk

GREEN BAY – The moment doesn’t get too big for the Catholic Central volleyball team – and it easily could have in a WIAA Division 4 state semifinal Friday morning at the Resch Center.

Already up two games to zero, the Lady Toppers faced their first challenge of the match against Wausau-area Newman Catholic, a daunting 23-18 deficit which threatened to turn a breeze of a sweep into a dogfight.

But much like they’ve done all season, Catholic Central’s seniors – Grace Spiegelhoff, Miriam Ward and Elizabeth Klein – kept the troops relaxed.

“I never felt nervous,” Spiegelhoff said. “Even in that third game, I never felt like we were down. It was 10-2.”

“We got on a service run by Miriam and Elizabeth. It was like, ‘You know how to serve, you know how to pass, and you have to focus on what you can control.’ We had this confidence going in, and we just knew how to play.”

Spiegelhoff not only talked the talk to pump up her teammates, she walked the walk. The 6-foot outside hitter spearheaded an 8-1 run to close out the third game with three kills, and Klein’s two aces broke a 24-24 tie to gave the Toppers their first state tournament victory since 2012.

During the game-clinching flurry, Ward added two aces. As a team, the Toppers tallied 17 aces – a new Division 4 state tournament record for a three-game match.

“We played each point like it was our last, and we fought for the ball every time,” Ward added.

For Klein, who reiterated in the postgame interview the ultimate goal is winning it all Saturday, it’s about keeping things simple and trusting your ability.

“Yes, it’s state, but it’s just a volleyball game. Earlier this year, we’ve been down 24-17 and come back to win. We just have to do point by point.”

Prepared for pressure

While the grand stage of state is new for these girls, they received some solid practice at sectionals.

In both a sectional semifinal and sectional final victory, the Toppers faced plenty of adversity, taking both matches in five games.

You would have to go all the way back to September to find the last time the Toppers (33-7) lost, as Friday’s victory marked their 21st consecutive win.

First-year head coach Wayne Schultz, who pioneered Westosha Central boys volleyball a little more than a decade ago, said beating Newman Catholic, a program that’s lived at state the past decade including a state title two years ago, was huge for his squad.

“As we keep showing all year long, no deficit is too huge for us,” Schultz said. “Our girls never lost faith in that third set, we came back, kept chipping away and made some big plays at the end.”

The ace record was no accident.

Sammie Seib recorded six, Klein added four and Ward and Ella Shaw each tallied three.

From the time Schultz took over the program back in March, he has stressed the benefit of aggressive serving – something the crosstown friendly rival Burlington Demons have perfected.

A strong serve can disrupt the rhythm of an opponent’s offense and neutralize elite hitters that are used to favorable passes. A smaller team can also shut down a taller squad with the nuances of serving, along with defense and passing.

“I talked to the players about trying to put pressure on other teams with our serving,” Schultz said. “They’ve been doing that all year. It starts with our serving, and we build from there.”

Starting strong

The first set was all Catholic Central, as the girls had a .357 hitting percentage and cruised to a 25-17 win.

The Toppers broke open a 10-8 game with some balanced scoring, including kills from Kelsee Weis, Ward, Katie Goethal, Seib and Klein.

Grace Spiegelhoff led the Toppers with 12 kills Friday. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

Newman bounced back to lead most of the second set, cutting the lead to 21-20 lead before Weis and Makayla Vos entered the contest.

Then, Catholic Central closed the game on a 5-1 run, with two aces, and kills from both Spiegelhoff and Ward.

The third match was all Newman, which opened up leads of 8-1 and 10-2.

Seib caught fire on a personal 5-0 run, earning a kill and two aces, along with two powerful hits that forced Fighting Cardinals errors.

The Cardinals regained a 13-8 lead, but the Toppers came all the way back to tie things up at 23-23. Spiegelhoff led the offense with three kills to will her team back, but Newman committed six errors as well.

Newman Catholic head coach Betty Lange credited the Toppers’ resiliency and mental acumen.

“Serve-receive,” Lange said when asked why the Toppers pulled off a comeback in game three. “Give Catholic Central credit. They got to the service line, and they were very, very tough.”

“They were a solid team all the way around. They had nice swings, No. 13 swinging from the back row, front row, anywhere.”

No. 13 is Seib, and she did it all for the Toppers.

The sophomore sensation had 11 kills, 6 aces and five digs.

Spiegelhoff paced the Toppers with 12 kills.

Klein dished 24 assists and led the team with 10 digs.

Linnea Svenes led the Cardinals with 12 digs, but was the only player in double figures.

The Toppers pose with their loyal fans, who made the two-hour plus drive Friday. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

On to the next one

Catholic Central battles Clayton (25-3) Saturday for the state championship at 9 a.m.

The Bears swept River Ridge, 26-24, 26-24, 25-20, on the Resch’s other court during the Toppers’ victory.

Selena Levendoski, a 5-foot-9 senior who averages 5 kills per set, totaled a whopping 25 in the victory Friday. Jaedyn Bussewitz added 11 kills.

While Spiegelhoff and Klein both are listed at 6-feet tall, Goethal stands 5-foot-11.

On paper alone and based on Catholic Central’s defense Friday, a long, athletic block combined with Antlfinger controlling the back row could force the Bears to improvise.

No player on Clayton is taller than 5-9.

“We’ll focus on us tomorrow,” Schultz said. “We’re going to do what we do well. We’re going to come out and play Catholic Central volleyball, and adjust as we go.”

Spiegelhoff said the girls will tour Lambeau Field Friday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers home field, which is located across the street from the Resch Center.

The laid-back schedule and emphasis on camaraderie and fun helps this Topper bunch.

“I might get some merch,” Spiegelhoff joked.

“When we’re having fun, we’re more confident and cool about things. If we do just get wild, that will help us, actually. If we’re uptight, that carries onto the court, and we lose it.”

“If we have fun and enjoy the whole experience, because as seniors we’re never going to play here again, so let’s have fun with it.”

Is Spiegelhoff ready for Clayton?

She’s got two words for you.

“Bring it.”

Sammie Seib makes a textbook bump Friday as Grace Antlfinger (from left) and Grace Spiegelhoff look on. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)