Going down 2-0 is not something that figures to faze the New Berlin United volleyball team after the squad faced the same inconvenience in the sectional final and rallied to make state.
Once again, playing in the state semifinal against Catholic Memorial on Nov. 12, New Berlin battled back to take the third set. But the United would not reach that fifth set this time around, falling to the eventual state champion at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 25-17, 25-20, 23-25, 25-19.
"We did draw on that a little bit," New Berlin coach Nick Maske said of the 2-0 situation, referring to the sectional final. "That was my mentality going into the third set. We've done this before. We've been down to a very tough team in Muskego just a week ago. I knew the boys knew how to fight back."
With libero Kyle Olson serving, the United rattled off 11 straight points at one juncture to rally from a 12-5 deficit to grab a 16-12 lead.
"The two rotations we actually earn the most points out of is when our setter is serving or when our defensive specialist who replaces the right side (is serving), but it doesn't surprise me; Kyle Olson is a very good server," Maske said. "When we ask him to spot serve, he can nail spot serves all the time. He has that experience."
Memorial counter-punched with eight straight points to take a 20-16 lead, and again the United clawed back to win the set. The teams were tied at 17 in the fourth, but Memorial turned to its dynamic one-two punch of Ryan Brown and Zach Engsberg ,who logged a combined six kills in the home stretch and sealed the deal. Matt Wein's ace capped a closing run of 9-2.
"CMH is a very good team, and they deserved to win," Maske said. "They put their foot to the gas — and that's the quote we use a lot — and they did a good job finishing the job."
It was battle between two programs that have close ties. Several Catholic Memorial players hail from Holy Apostles School in New Berlin, and United assistant coach Jake Oberbruner has coached several of Memorial's key players in the club season. Maske and Catholic Memorial co-head coach Dan Chipman both coach with the Milwaukee Sting during the club season. Maske himself coached several CMH players at Holy Apostles.
"I'm sad we lost because of course I want my team to win, but I'm happy for them because I know so many of them," Maske said. "Catholic Memorial and New Berlin have so many close relationships. We are friends."
New Berlin closed the year in the state semifinal for a second straight season after falling in five thrilling sets to Kettle Moraine last year. Despite graduating five key seniors from that team, the United finished 25-12 this season, swept defending champion and No. 2-seeded Kaukauna in the quarterfinal and took a set from a squad that went on to win gold.
"I don't think anybody can be disappointed," Maske said. "I know they're sad, but they can't be disappointed. Prior to this weekend, I don't think most people expected us to be here. We only graduate four seniors; I'm excited for our future."
Kyle Kraninger and Zach Just both had 11 kills in defeat, and both will be back next year for a team that promises to be pretty loaded. The squad graduates seniors Ray LaMora, Nathan Gillard, Ben Laurent and leading blocker Matt Obradovich. But three of the team's top four attackers, setter Brian Voight and Olson are all among the returnees.
Zach Engsberg had 18 kills for Memorial, living up to his reputation as one of Wisconsin's most lethal middle blockers. Ryan Brown added 12 kills.
For New Berlin, Voight finished with 34 assists, Kraninger posted nine digs and both Petar Durev and Voight, who stands 6-4 and is one of the state's tallest setters, ended with a solo block and six assists.