Demons tested in third game, advance to state title Saturday at 4 p.m.

Coach Teri Little and the bench celebrate a point Friday night. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

GREEN BAY – For the fifth time in eight years, the Burlington High School girls volleyball team will play in a state championship match.

The Lady Demons ripped through the Wolverines for most of a WIAA Division 1 semifinal Friday night, but it took a hard-fought scramble in the third set to set up a third consecutive state title match and a rare chance at back-to-back titles, something the program did in 2011 and 2012.

“We have such good chemistry, and our defense and offense is literally unstoppable, and it’s great,” said junior Emily Alan, who led the Demons with 11 kills and a .409 hitting percentage.

For Coach Teri Little, who said after the game that Burlington scouted West heavily by watching game film, it was a matter of preparation that led to the team’s hot start.

Burlington players rejoice after winning Friday night. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

“I’m pretty happy with how we came out, we came out and controlled the style of play,” Little said. “We came out and played Demon ball. We ball-controlled significantly better, and that created so many opportunities and openings for our offense.”

Easy wouldn’t be the word, because the Demons needed to consistently execute. But the first two sets weren’t much of a challenge against West, which finished fifth in its conference but caught a hot streak in the last month.

Sophomore libero Sam Naber tallied 17 digs to spearhead the Burlington defense, which held the Wolverines to a .089 hitting percentage in the first set and .205 in game three.

“There’s nothing like Burlington volleyball,” Naber said. “You don’t score a point without almost every teammate giving you a high-five. The culture is amazing, and I think we have that grind that no one else has.”

Roughly a half-hour after the Demons won in three, a potential rematch with River Falls for the gold ball was abruptly thwarted.

Oconomowoc stormed back for a riveting 32-30 win in game three before finishing off the defending state runner-up in five.

The Cooney (28-7) took second place in the stacked Classic 8, but Burlington (35-5) is extremely familiar with high-pressure situations.

In September, at the Joust, the Cooney beat Burlington, 2-1.

But Oconomowoc head coach Michelle Bruss said the teams are completely different now.

“We have to focus on what we do,” she said. “We’ve seen Burlington, and both teams had two people injured. It’s a brand new game. There’s not a lot of film we can watch on them. If we continue to fight together and pushing points, it’ll be a fun game tomorrow.”

As for Friday, senior Grace Peyron, who delivered nine kills, five digs and a .450 hitting percentage, said the victory was a result of constant hard work.

“We worked really hard to get here, and it’s been our goal the whole season (to win state),” Peyron said. “It’s something we’ve worked for constantly, and we’ve taken every competitor seriously.”

Coley Haggard paced the Demons with 16 kills, and Maddie Berezowitz added 10 kills and 14 digs.

Kaley Blake was on point again, distributing 45 assists to five players with five or more kills.

Camryn Lukenbill, a sophomore who missed the entire regular season before coming back two weeks ago for the playoffs, is back to 100 percent. The 6-foot-1 middle has made her presence felt, finishing as one of the team’s leading hitters in each postseason contest.

Burlington players wait to see if a hit is in or out Friday night. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

“As a freshman, I didn’t really know what state meant,” Lukenbill said. “It feels amazing, it’s kind of all just a shock. There’s so much excitement and so much anticipation.”

“I had a herniated disc in my back, so I was out for three months. Now I feel great, I’m so happy to be back. I love the sport so much, and being back is amazing. The postseason is going well for me. I’ve been working to be back in shape, and I feel great.”

After winning the first two games with little resistance, 25-18 and 25-14, Burlington had to earn game three.

The third game was as back and forth as a match can get, with 16 ties and numerous lead changes.

The Demons finally found an edge late, as a Haggard kill put Burlington at its first match point, up 25-24.

But the Wolverines wouldn’t quit, tying it back up at 25-25 and 27-27.

The game-winning point started with an Amanda Viel serve. When Burlington got the ball back, Blake found a streaking Lukenbill, who pounded a serve back across her body for the win.

“I think that’s the best part of volleyball,” Naber said. “You can come out and crush a team, but when you’re that close, it’s great to be with your team fighting for those points. That’s where the biggest victories come.”

“To see the aggressiveness the girls still had, even if they had a set point on us, I thought we still stayed aggressive,” Little added. “Whether you earn those points or not, it’s good to see and it builds character.”

For the Demons, getting back to the state title and having a chance at back-to-back titles has been a goal all season, so Saturday was expected.

“Oh yeah,” Naber said when asked if she thought the Demons would return to the state title match. “We know what it takes to get here. In early tournaments, we don’t always get the results we want, but we know how to build off that and bring it when we need to.”

“Our practices are so competitive,” Alan added. “It makes us so good, and sometimes it’s our best competition.”

So what will it take to win it all – again?

“Our team is so determined, and we perform so well under pressure,” Lukenbill said. “We need to go in there, knowing it will be a tough match. Oconomowoc is a good competitor.”

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