With its 25-23, 25-22, 25-20 WIAA sectional semifinal defeat of state power Menomonee Falls Thursday night in Watertown, the Nicolet girls volleyball team turned another page in the book of respectability.
The Knights will play top-seeded Little 10 Conference champ Watertown in a 7 p.m. WIAA sectional final on Saturday at Waukesha West, with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
"We now have three of five major goals ticked off right now," Knight coach Dann Jacobson said. "Two years ago, when we lost to Falls (in sectional semifinals), they were the better team and last year we lost to DSHA in four games (also in the same round), but this is a different team now."
Yes, it is, as powered by the high-octane hitting of sophomore star Melissa Morello and the rock-steady block of Morello, Krystalyn Goode and Nikki Flemming, the two-time North Shore Conference champs gained an edge in every game, forcing the smaller and less experienced Greater Metro runner-up Indians to play catch-up each time out.
But the feisty Falls team made the Knights work everytime. Nicolet was up 22-17 in the first game, but a 5-1 Indian run closed it to 23-22, before Morello and Goode kills won the game.
In game two, the Knights looked brilliant early, taking a 9-1 advantage and holding a 16-6 edge at one point, but then Falls roared back with a 13-2 run to take a 19-18 lead. The game see-sawed down the stretch, before a Sam Lautmann kill and a Katelyn Richards ace did the trick.
The scenario repeated itself in game three, as Nicolet took a 13-5 lead only to see Falls, behind the hitting of Catie Fredrich and Rebecca Fuchs tie it back up at 14-apiece. But two big blocks by the Knights capped a 6-0 run a short time later as they were finally able to close out the Indians.
"We ran into a buzzsaw offensively with Morello," said Falls coach J.C. Bruns. "We watched her on film and knew what she was going to do, but we couldn't set the block up fast enough to deal with her. ...Still, I was very proud of the kids tonight. We showed tremendous leadership. There was no quit in these players and they showed a lot of maturity."
"We feel that when our defense is on like that, that the offense really feeds off it," said the sophomore all-state candidate Morello.
Jacobson noted that the Knights had their three best days of practice of the season going into the match and that translated into the stunning success.
"Just a great job of preparation and scouting by our assistant coach (Kalin von Treba)," Jacobson said,
"The kids took the information and executed perfectly."
"All credit to Nicolet, they played awesome," said Bruns. "It wasn't like two teams were playing poorly out there. It's just that you had one team at the top of its game (Nicolet) while we were just a little off."
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