Just when it looked like New Berlin United's chances were slim and none of going to next weekend's WIAA boys volleyball state tournament, first-year coach Nick Maske changed his team's goals.
"We're going to fight for this and we are going to make sure our season was not ending tonight," Maske said as his team trailed Muskego, 2-0. "We talked about goals again. Let's set these little goals. We're going to be the first team to 10. Let's be the first team to 15. Let's score one point before they score a point. By setting little goals at a time instead of focusing on the big picture, it worked out."
The bottom line was Maske knew only one team could beat his ballclub.
"I told them no one is going to end our season, except for us," he said. "If we were going to play bad, then that's going to end our season. The boys just used that as our energy."
New Berlin made the Muskego lead disappeared and won a thriller, 21-25, 17-25, 25-23, 25-17, 15-13.
The match very nearly ended in the minimum three sets. With New Berlin leading, 21-16, Muskego went on a 7-2 run to tie it at 23-23. With the season hanging in the balance, United's Zach Just and Brian Voight supplied back-to-back kills to get the win and cut the Warriors match lead to 2-1.
Then New Berlin took control of the fourth game after trailing, 16-15, scoring 10 of the final 11 points for the 25-17 win to even the match. Matt Obradovich and Kyle Kraninger did most of the damage.
"Momentum is a huge thing in volleyball," Kraninger said. "We just did a great job. I know we were down 2-0, but I know the character of this team. I knew we were going to win."
Maske, who didn't realize his team had a 10-1 run, talked about the energy on the floor.
"I think our energy picked up and you could see them getting tired a little bit," he said. "So we focused on hitting balls to those areas. Our crowd energized us. It's nice having the home crowd at a sectional final."
The United took a 10-6 lead in the fifth and deciding set and increased it to 13-8, but a 4-0 run by the Warriors behind Jacob Strande and Ben Schaefer cut it to 13-12. But Kraninger drilled a match-clincher after New Berlin secured a side out.
"As I went forward, I knew it was going down after I hit," Kraninger said.
Kraninger finished with 22 kills, Brian Voight had 57 assists and six digs and Obradovich blocked four shots. For the Warriors, Mitchell Geiger had 15 kills, Matthew Lensing had 13 kills, Strande had four kills and six blocks, Schaefer had eight kills and Brandon Hungelmann-Skiba had 20 assists and four kills.
An emotional Joe Arbinger tried to console his Muskego team after a strong performance in defeat.
"I told them to stay confident, stay positive," Arbinger said his message to the team was after a 2-0 start. "We wanted to be the aggressor. We knew if we stayed aggressive, we could stay on top. We had them on their heels and we were hoping they would tighten up a little bit.
"But they came out and they played aggressive, and we tightened up. We gave them a big run in the third game, but we gave them momentum to go through.
We almost had that comeback; it was so close. But they were a little more aggressive than we were and it paid off.
"I think this was the perfect match for us to play in. But the energy shifted and to have to come over in their gym, it was just a little too much for us to do. They never quit in that third game and that fifth game, they came back. It was a darn good effort out of them."
It is the United's fifth trip to state and the third in a row, including an epic state semifinal appearance last year under now-retired coach Jay Szatkowski. Muskego has been to state twice, the last time in 2012.
"It's hard to describe," said Obradovich of West, one of only four seniors on the team, on trailing, 2-0. "I was so worried, I hadn't been very sharp. But my teammates came out and picked me up. It's unbelievable."
"I think it means a lot," Maske said. "I think that the athletic directors here at Ike (Kevin Fitzgerald) and West (Jordan Napoli) put their trust in the coach they were going to hire and continue the program in a winning tradition. So that means a lot to me that they put their faith in me. And in turn, I put it in the boys. People came up to me and told me 'You aren't going to go back to state. You aren't as good as you were last year.'
"We just proved them wrong and said 'We can.' We used that as motivation. We weren't going to let anyone else tell us what we were going to do."
United will face Kaukauna in a state quarterfinal match at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11 at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee. The Galloping Ghosts, the defending state champions, are seeded second for the state tournament. If United wins its quarterfinal match, the semifinal would be at 12:30 p.m. and the championship match at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12.