Demons claim 4th crown in 8 years

The Burlington bench met the players on the court after Saturday’s state championship, and it was epic. The Lady Demons burst with emotions, smiles, hugs and laughter after capturing their second gold ball in as many years. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

GREEN BAY – Teri Little looked like a kid in a candy store Saturday night, exclaiming “Hell yeah!” as she walked to the media room.

Burlington High School students, clad in tie-dye, littered with signs and beaming with excitement, summoned Dan Lynch, who let out a ferocious “Yeah” and pumped his fist toward the sea of orange in the Resch Center crowd.

And assistant coach Mary Parker, pumped up and ready to congratulate the victorious, state champion Demons, took a body block and borderline tackle from amped sophomore Sam Naber moments after a four-set thriller that resulted in Burlington becoming back-to-back state champions for a second time.

The coaches were as jacked as the players, who piled up on each other with reckless abandon following a 25-27, 30-28, 25-19, 25-17 WIAA Division 1 state final victory over Oconomowoc.

Burlington takes its seat among the truly elite high school sports programs in the state of Wisconsin, with a fourth state championship in eight years.

“Wow, I mean I can hardly believe it,” Little said in the postgame press conference. “They set this goal at the beginning of the season to try to come up here and repeat, and they have done it.”

“This group of 16 girls is a fabulous group of young women. They have been the true definition of team, all the way through. The way they gutted it out together is unbelievable. I’m so impressed with the job they did, not only tonight but all season to get to that point.”

 

Kaley Blake (from left), Cam Lukenbill, Maddie Berezowitz, Cayla Gutche and Amanda Viel release a primal scream Saturday night after winning the state title. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

Block party starts early

It was a block party Saturday night from the jump for the Lady Demons.

Emily Alan, Grace Peyron and Camryn Lukenbill fired off five first-set block kills to set the tone for the night. The Demons’ net presence was a problem for Oconomowoc, which was gunning for its first team state title in any sport since 1981.

Raccoons head coach Michelle Bruss was floored by how well the Demons played, especially in the middle.

“It wasn’t our day,” she said.

Bruss elocuted a Demon block that was near impossible to penetrate. Bruss said the Oconomowoc hitters had to change how they attacked on offense, and it made things uncomfortable all night.

After the Raccoons overcame a 23-15 deficit in the first set, they proceeded to finish with a 12-2 run to go up 1-0.

Elle Schult, Cooney’s 6-foot-3 middle, notched a pivotal kill in the final points in game one, and Maleah Howe finished off the Demons.

But it was all Burlington the rest of the way.

The Demons came out strong again in set two, and Oconomowoc again rallied to scramble mode. But this time, the Demons were ready.

Burlington scored from everywhere on the court, including the back row, with four girls reaching double figures in kills.

Grace Peyron and Alan added kills to make it 27-26, as the Demons stole match point away from Oconomowoc, which led 24-23.

Finally, Haggard found some extra lift to challenge a Raccoon hit, which barely landed out of bounds.

The 50-50 judge’s decision went in Burlington’s favor, and the 30-28 turning point win changed everything.

“It was definitely a momentum changer,” Berezowitz said. “We were frustrated in that first set, so it helped us compete the rest of the way.”

“I’ve played in four state championships, and the two we’ve won have been the most amazing experiences in my high school career. Every single player made a huge contribution this year. We always focus on playing to November. Every day in practice, we work to play to November. That has led to success for us over the years.”

 

Riding large wave of momentum

Heads began to hang and players like setter Tayler Alden, a 6-foot-1 hitting and passing double threat that’s committed to Division 1 Northern Illinois, showed visible frustration as the Demons poured it on in game three.

Alan demonstrated her versatilily with an acrobatic dig before Lukenbill and Peyron teamed for a block to make it 12-8 Burlington.

The four-point deficit was as close as Oconomowoc would get, as Maddie Berezowitz and Coley Haggard, two senior leaders, slammed home the game victory.

A fitting cap to a match owned by Burlington’s blocking, Lukenbill and Berezowitz combined for a block kill to win game three, 25-19.

Solid serving from sophomore Amanda Viel helped the Demons in game four, as Burlington turned an 11-11 deadlock into another easy win thanks to a devastating 8-3 run.

Oconomowoc cut it to 20-16, but errors combined with pinpoint hitting from Alan and Lukenbill finished the Raccoons, 25-17.

In the final two games, the Demons forced a plethora of Cooney hitting errors. Burlington’s imposing block and fast-action sets led to an overall .068 hitting percentage from Oconomowoc.

The Raccoons had the same number of errors, eight, as kills in the third game, and they only shot a measly .083 in game four.

On the other hand, Burlington featured 13 kills apiece from Haggard and Peyron, with 11 each from Berezowitz and Alan.

 

Flirting with the record books

Burlington’s 15 team blocks was one off the all-time state record of 16 for a four-game match, set in 2005.

“We tried to stop their middle in the second set, and that worked out a little more,” Haggard said.

“I had the feeling of winning a silver ball my sophomore year and gold ball my junior year, and I really wanted that gold ball.”

Kaley Blake, a junior setter committed to UWM, tallied 46 assists and added 14 digs, while also helping form that menacing block with her teammates.

So why was the block so good?

“It’s the state championship,” Peyron said. “We’ve been working on it a lot, and I think it’s the adrenaline, honestly. The feeling is indescribable, I can’t put it into words.”

“Getting up and pressing over,” Blake added. “Just getting your hands over the net. Emily, Cam and Grace are really tall, and their length is huge.”

“I mostly block outside, but sometimes I block middle. Tonight, we definitely picked up our passing, and our hitting percentages went up in the second and third game, so we were able to be in system more often.”

“This is crazy.”

Senior Lexi Hill said it was a long, hard journey to win it all, and it’s hard to believe.

Fellow senior Jordann Huisinga, playing on varsity and experiencing the Demon powerhouse for the first time, is enjoying the ride.

“We might dye our hair,” Huisinga and Hill said when asked how they will celebrate this historic triumph.

“Buffalo Wild Wings sounds amazing,” Huisinga joked.

All jokes aside, Burlington volleyball has this winning thing figured out. With nine state appearances in 10 years, four gold balls and generations of young, volleyball lovers all united behind Little and Lynch’s vision, this juggernaut shows zero sign of slowing down.

Thank you, seniors: Seniors Lexi Hill (from left), Maddie Berezowitz, Coley Haggard, Grace Peyron and Jordann Huisinga experienced four state tournaments as players, including two state championships and a state runner-up finish (2016). (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

 

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