BY MURRAY GLEFFE
ASHWAUBENON-The Ashwaubenon girls’ volleyball team has faced adversity more than once this season.
Saturday evening was no different, as the Jaguars stormed back to win in five sets over the Appleton East Patriots 24-26, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 15-11 and thus capture the WIAA Regional Championship. (Oct. 20)
For Ashwaubenon, Maria Scherer had 15 digs and 51 assists, Maddie Koch 32 kills and 11 digs, Maddie Crowley 17 kills and 17 digs, Paige Barry 23 digs and Katie Benson 3 aces.
For Appleton East, Tiffany Paalman had 19 kills and 8 blocks, Anna Murphy 14 assists and 12 digs, Nevie Basick 13 kills, Kellyn Kennedy 10 assists and 5 digs and Cameron Neubauer 6 kills and 7 aces.
On paper, this contest had all the makings that it could go the distance.
Both teams had played earlier in the season in a back and forth see-saw affair.
The Patriots grabbed an early 7-4 lead in the opener and extended it to 13-9 after Neubauer blocked an attempted kill by the Jaguars.
The Jaguars evened the score at 18 all and took the lead at 21-20 after Crowley laced a kill from the left half of the court that went caroming out of play.
The Patriots composed themselves, though, as Paalman hit late kills to propel Appleton East to an opening two-point set win that went past the 25 point barrier.
The Jaguars came out with a spark in set number two and after Emily Lange put down her patented right-handed kill, Ashwaubenon went up 8-5.
At 13 all, the Jaguars and Patriots played one of the best points of the match. Three incredible digs by each team kept the point alive, and eventually Koch put down a kill. Just seconds earlier, she had been at her team’s bench scrambling to save the ball.
Six lead changes were exchanged near the end of the set.
Barry continued to work hard digging balls that were hit hard by the opposition, but retrieving them, nonetheless.
Lange, Nitti, and Kirst each came up with big blocks at 23 all to lift Ashwaubenon to a two-point second set victory.
“Paige (Barry) really had a solid game overall with her digging,” said Megan Wierschke, Jaguars volleyball coach. “She came through with a number of tough gets in that second set when we needed it.”
The Jaguars played good volleyball to start set number three in going up 13-7 midway through, but the Patriots went on a surge winning 12 of the next 16 points and eventually pulled the third set out by ironically a two-point margin.
The Jaguars had their backs to the wall, but for the team and their fans, there was no reason to panic. It wasn’t the first time they had to put on their rally caps.
The Patriots controlled much of the fourth set with leads of 6-2, 9-5, and 17-13.
That’s when the Jaguars kicked their game into high gear knowing that the match was slipping away.
Benson connected on an ace.
Scherer then delivered four consecutive assists and suddenly the Jaguars had reclaimed the lead at 18-17.
The Patriots took one final lead at 21-20 after Kennedy went up high to block a Jaguars kill.
The Jaguars dug deep and fed Koch the rest of set number four to finish off the Patriots by-you guessed it-two points.
“East brought it to us a majority of that fourth set,” added Wierschke. “We fought back from four and five point deficits to force a final set.”
That evened the match and set up pivotal set five to see who would advance to the sectionals.
The Patriots grabbed an early 5-4 lead, before the Jaguars clawed back to regain the lead at 9-8.
With the score deadlocked at 11 apiece, (216 points played between the two teams) and nothing decided, the Jaguars went out and asserted themselves as champions.
The final four points of the match were won by the Jaguars and utter jubilation set in amongst the 14 players that were suited up.
“This group is a resilient bunch,” Wierschke said. “They stay upbeat even in down times and encourage each other on to stay the course.”
The Jaguars advance to the sectional semifinals where they will face the second-seeded Appleton North Lightning Thursday evening held at Green Bay East High School.
“We will have to play our most complete game of the year Thursday versus North,” said Wierschke. “They play volleyball at a very high IQ and don’t make many mistakes. Our girls are ready for the challenge. For now, I just want to enjoy this with our players, coaches, fans, and community.”