Lady Toppers sweep Clayton, capture sixth gold ball in 13 years, 1st since 2012

Catholic Central players and coaches pose with their shiny gold ball trophy, signifying a state championship. The Toppers swept Clayton Saturday at the Resch Center in Green Bay. It’s the first state title for the program since 2012 and sixth since 2006. (Eric Kramer/SLN)


By Jason Arndt

The Catholic Central Hilltoppers approach each volleyball match with a calm and collected attitude, regardless of who they play.

Winners of 21 straight entering Saturday’s WIAA Division 4 state championship, the Lady Toppers used the same mindset against the defending state champion Clayton at the Resch Center in Green Bay – and the victory train kept rolling.

The Hilltoppers, coming off their state semifinal victory against Newman Catholic Friday, showcased their offensive versatility – and constant smiles – as they grinded out a three-set sweep of the Bears, 25-17, 28-26, 25-22.

Catholic Central coach Wayne Schultz, in his first year with the Hilltoppers, said his team’s relaxed and jubilant attitude – even on the state stage – has been the mantra throughout the season.

“That is the way we have tried to play volleyball the entire year from start to finish, we have tried to treat every match like we are just out there playing volleyball,” he said.

“Whether we were playing a conference match, at a tournament in September, or we are playing at a state championship match, the mindset of this team has always been the same,” he said.

For sophomore outside hitter Sammie Seib, who accounted for a game-high 20 kills along with seven digs, the notion of winning a state championship has not sunk in.

The 5-foot-8 Seib, at the post-game press conference, could only say it “hasn’t hit me yet.”

Senior Grace Spiegelhoff, a 6-0 outside hitter, said winning a state championship is an unbelievable testament to her team’s work ethic.

“We worked so hard all season and this is always our end goal, and it is crazy to actually see it come true,” she said.

Clayton coach Sadie Schradle, meanwhile, acknowledged it would be a challenge replicating last year’s performance.

Schradle, noting her team lost a handful of seniors, believes the Hilltoppers were ready to play on Saturday.

“They showed up and played their best game today and we just fell a little bit short,” Schradle said.

“We knew coming in today that it was going to be a challenge and regardless of what we accomplished last year, it was a whole new year and a whole new championship game,” she said.


All business

Despite a back-and-forth battle in all three sets, the Hilltoppers did not seem fazed, even when they trailed to open the first set.

Down 3-0, the Hilltoppers bounced back to claim a 4-3 edge, courtesy of Clayton attack errors.

After a 9-3 run in favor of Clayton, which gave the Bears a 12-10 edge, Catholic Central responded with seven consecutive points sparked by a Seib kill assisted by Elizabeth Klein to came out ahead 17-12.

Klein, a 6-0 setter, registered a game-high 46 assists.

Senior middle hitter Miriam Ward, meanwhile, played a critical role in the 7-0 run, where she produced three of her 13 kills.

“Early on, (with) her in the middle establishing all of those kills in the beginning, she hit well over .500 for the match and it opened things up on the pitch for us,” Schultz said about Ward’s performance.

In total, Ward collected six kills in the set.

Although the Bears capitalized on a Catholic Central service error, Seib again sparked a run, this time for a 4-0 stretch.

Spiegelhoff and Ward capped off the 4-0 run with back-to-back kills to extend the Hilltoppers lead to 21-13.

Clayton responded, however, with two consecutive Jaedyn Bussewitz kills to start a 3-0 to trim its deficit to 21-16.

After both teams traded points, the Hilltoppers closed out the set with four straight points, capped off by a Spiegelhoff spike followed by a Klein service ace

“We were very business-like today, whether we were up or down, our girls had the same attitude and we just kept grinding out points, grinding out points and getting in rallies,” Schultz said.

The second and third sets, however, presented a challenge for both teams.

Despite coming into 29 total deadlocks in both sets, the Hilltoppers still showed poise as Clayton tried to get ahead.


Cool and collected

The second set brought a back-and-forth battle, with 12 stalemates, but Spiegelhoff said her squad maintained composure and continued to press on.

“I think we had to stay calm and collected the whole time,” she said.

Sophomore libero Grace Antilfinger, who dove in for a game-high 23 digs, agreed with Spiegelhoff.

Tied at one apiece, Seib and Ward came together to produce five consecutive points, with Seib accounting for two kills and Ward registering the other three.

Clayton, which called a timeout after Ward’s kill, rattled off four straight points, including a kill and service ace from Selena Levendoski to trim its deficit to 6-5.

For the rest of the second set, no more than two points separated the teams.

The Bears, who trailed 25-24 after a Spiegelhoff kill, pulled the set in their favor at 26-25 with kills by Bussewitz and Kailey Ketz.

Catholic Central answered with three straight points, starting with a Spiegelhoff kill and capped off with spike by Katie Goethal to take a 2-0 advantage into the third set.

“We just couldn’t get over that edge and finish that set,” Schradle said.

In the third set, where there were 17 deadlocks, the Hilltoppers pulled away from Clayton at 20-20.

After two Clayton hitting errors, Klein and Spiegehloff contributed back-to-back spikes, which pulled the Hilltoppers ahead 24-20.

Clayton then trimmed its defict to 24-22 following two straight Hilltoppers hitting errors.

Spiegelhoff responded with a spike to shut the door on Clayton’s season.

Catholic Central’s resilience, according to Schultz, did not come as a surprise.

“We played the entire season one point at a time and they did a great job of doing that today,” he said.

During the match, even when the Hilltoppers trailed, they did not seem bothered by it.

Instead, Catholic Central smiled, showed energy and played with enthusiasm.

“That is the way we have tried to play volleyball the entire year from start to finish, we have tried to treat every match like we are just out there playing volleyball,” said Schultz, who concluded his first season at Catholic Central with a 32-7 record.

Senior Selena Levendoski had a team-leading 19 kills for Clayton (25-4).