Sophomores help lead De Pere volleyball to victory
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – When the De Pere girls’ volleyball team had its back against the wall and the season on the line, two sophomores stepped up in a big way.
Jenna Paulos and Taylor Coleman combined for six big kills in the fifth set alone, as De Pere held off rival West De Pere 3-2 (25-20, 25-22, 15-25, 22-25, 15-13) in an opening-round Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 playoff match Thursday evening at De Pere High School.
“That was crazy,” Paulos, who finished the match with 12 kills, four blocks and two aces, said. “It was back and forth the whole game. It was tiring, but we pulled it out at the end.”
No. 8-seeded De Pere and No. 9-seeded West De Pere had faced off twice two weeks ago at a tournament and split the matches.
This rubber match proved to be about as even as possible.
“It was a fun one,” De Pere coach PJ Brocker III said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge, but you can’t ask for a more fun match than that.”
Humble in defeat, West De Pere Head Coach Jackie Kocken said she loved the resolve of her players, especially after being down two sets to none and on the ropes all match.
“We played amazing,” she said. “We had lots of seniors on the court and a foreign exchange student who played outside. We had two sophomores who were starters. For them to come on the court and prove themselves, essentially, against a competitive team, they played amazingly. I can’t believe the aggressiveness and integrity they have. I’m proud of them.”
De Pere was playing shorthanded with senior outside hitter Chloe Hansel out all week on quarantine.
Paulos, Coleman – who finished with 13 kills – and senior Reese Mackey – who had a match-leading 16 kills – all picked up the slack.
“We’ve relied on them more and more throughout the season,” Brocker said about the play of Paulos and Coleman. “I don’t think I can understate their role, especially tonight. They both had great games. This was also the best game I’ve seen on the year from Reese (Mackey).”
De Pere won the opening set 25-22 before finding itself deadlocked at 20-20 in the second set.
The Redbirds scored five of the last seven points, as Kenzie Hnilicka tallied three kills in the decisive run as De Pere pulled off a 25-22 victory.
Down 2-0, there was no panic from West De Pere.
The Phantoms scored a 25-15 victory in the third set but found themselves trailing 19-11 in the fourth.
West capped the big comeback by scoring 14 of the set’s final 17 points to stun De Pere, 25-22.
“West De Pere made some adjustments, and they were getting some balls up on shots they weren’t in the first two,” Brocker said. “They made things more difficult and frustrating. Then they got on a couple of serving runs that put lots of pressure on us.”
Paulos said the team tried to regain its composure after the Phantoms snatched the momentum.
“We tried to take a deep breath, and we had to keep going,” she said. “We knew we had to put our all into that last set because that was our last one.”
De Pere jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the fifth, but West De Pere wasn’t going to crawl away.
It scored the next four points to knot it up at 8-all.
The set was then tied at 9-9, 10-10 and 13-13.
With the match on the line, Coleman pounded down a kill to make it 14-13.
Paulos then got a nice set for the opportunity to end the match.
“I went up and hoped for the best,” Paulos said. “I wanted to swing toward the corner.”
Paulos got the ball down on the corner to cap a 15-13 victory and send De Pere into the next round.
De Pere’s prize for beating West De Pere is facing one of the top volleyball programs in the state in Appleton North.
The top-seeded Lightning, ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 1, won the alternate fall state championship in April.
“We’ll embrace the challenge and do what we can do,” Brocker said.
Paulos agreed with her coach.
“We’re going to have to play smart and have a good mindset going into the game,” she said.