Seniors power Kettle Moraine back to state
The thunderous attacks from the back row by Adam Martell. The quick sets to Sean Leahy. The breakout performance of Jordan Stellflue. Middleton sometimes found a way to endure these elements when the two teams met in the WIAA boys volleyball sectional final at KM on Thursday, but ultimately, it was just too much.
For the first time since 2009, Kettle Moraine will head back to the state meet at Wisconsin Lutheran College next Friday after topping Middleton, 26-24, 25-21, 25-19. Martell finished with 15 kills, Stellflue added 14, Alex Koenig had seven and Leahy six, the contributions of a senior foursome that proved to be too many weapons for the scrappy Cardinals.
"We were much more confident and focused compared to years past and just felt a lot better," Stellflue said. "Tonight was a great night."
Stellflue was perhaps the most dangerous option available to setter Michael Orgas on the night, consistently burying his attempts, though the three-year starter Martell was reliable in the clutch. His kills tying match at 22 and 23 in the first set, as well as a termination that put his team up 24-23, came at a time when the Lasers were reeling, having surrendered five straight points on errors to spot Middleton a 22-21 edge.
"That was probably the key," KM coach Tom Gulak said. "Now (by winning the first set), we can lose game 2 and it's only a tie. I told them, 'You've put them behind the 8-ball.' We didn't play our cleanest volleyball, but they kept balls alive and didn't make mistakes. They extended some long rallies."
Koenig also had a big kill with the set tied at 24, and a net error on Middleton allowed the Lasers to survive a set in which they finished with six service errors, three attack errors, two net violations and a ball-handling error.
"We just had way too many service errors," Martell said. "Way too much for one (set), and we cleaned that up in the second set."
Though the Lasers threatened to open up a big lead in subsequent sets, Middleton hovered. The second set was tied at 21-21 before Martell closed the door with two kills in the final four points, and an 8-4 run capped by Koenig's putaway of an overpass closed out the third.
"They're a great, scrappy team," Martell said. "They just don't give up. Most teams you can break after a couple aces or so, these guys just don't break down."
Under a new format this season, four of the eight state qualifiers will be awarded seeds for the showcase next weekend, with an opponent then randomly assigned. The Lasers will learn their first round foe Monday.
"The hard part is to get there (to state), and now it's fun," Gulak said. "This week -- I don't want to call it stressful, but they wanted to play in this game. It's been a rough two weeks. ... This was a well played match, and now it's fun.
"They set some lofty goals to get to the state tournament and do some good things there. We'll be fun to watch next week."
Martell was a freshman on the last KM state qualifier, and his teams have come up short at the sectional final each of the past two years.
"We've come so close the other years; it's good to finally have that happen this time," Martell said.
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