The Ripon High School Tiger volleyball team had its work cut out for it last week Saturday in a regional semifinal matchup against the top-seeded Sun Prairie Cardinals.
Ripon, which was the No. 4 seed and has a school enrollment around a fifth of the size of Sun Prairie (2,494 to 515), did all it could to keep the match close but lost 12-25, 15-25, 18-25.
With the loss, the Tigers finish the alternative fall season with a record of 9-5 overall.
The Cardinals, a Division I school, went on to defeat No. 3 seed Beaver Dam 25-10, 2-16, 25-9 in the regional final later in the night and are the No. 1 seed in its four-team sectional bracket.
“I think we were a little tight just going into it, new surroundings and being regionals,” Ripon head coach Tracy Landerman said. “... So we had some quick, unforced errors probably right away in that first match, but then throughout the rest of the next three games, the kids battled hard. They did what they could, they pushed hard to make things work offensively … But the kids battled hard, I’m proud of what they did this season and Sun Prairie, they’re a good team.”
She noted the Cardinals had strong hitters coming from a lot of different angles, which caused Ripon to struggle with its passing to start and was a reason passing was inconsistent throughout.
“They kept us on the move, they kept us out of system,” Landerman said. “They made it a little harder for us to utilize our hitters, but we had plenty of good bright spots in there where we did pass well and we kept them off balance. They just had more coming from their end.”
The Tigers also took a little time adjusting to Sun Prairie’s speed and power when it came to blocking as it was at a different level than what they had seen in past matches this year.
“Our blockers started to figure that out and we had some good touches on the ball,” she said. “We didn’t have block kills, but we had a lot of touches and that helps to slow down the speed of the ball.”
The Ripon head coach was especially pleased with how her team played in the third set, losing just 25-18, which was the closest set Sun Prairie had on the day. In that set, Landerman noted the Tigers were coming back into it and taking more control. The Cardinals, however, were just too much.
“You look at the scores and we were in every set; we were playing with them point for point at times,” Landerman said. “They just had more coming at us offensively.”
Service aces: Abby Radloff 1, Erika Mills 1; Kills: Maleigha Kovalaske 6, Mills 6, Lexi Miller 4, Eva Baker 2, Emma Pinnow 2; Block kills: Miller 2, Radloff 1; Assists: Sheridan Zimmerman 19; Digs: Mills 7, Radloff 6, Miller 4 and Avery Downs 5.
Tigers rebound from first-set loss to defeat Cougars
After dropping the first set against the Campbellsport Cougars 22-25 last week Thursday, Ripon dominated the second set and never looked back en route to a four-set home victory.
The Tigers won the final three sets 25-7, 25-15 and 25-18, never trailing in two of the three.
“We started off slow in that first one and then built some momentum at the end going into the next three,” Landerman said. “We knew we were a better team at that time. We had way more offensively, and we started to do a better job of using our offense … We dominated that [second] game and we dominated it not only from an offensive standpoint, but we dominated in our serving, too.”
In the dominant second set that changed the momentum of the match, Sheridan Zimmerman served the first seven points of the set for Ripon. After the teams traded the next 14 points, Avery Downs served the final 10 points to give Ripon the victory and tie the match at one game apiece.
“That was a ‘Wow’ because the first game was like, ‘OK, we need to step it up’ and ‘where’s my team’ and ‘let’s put some good volleyball on the court,’” Landerman said of the Tigers’ 7-0 start to the set and 11-0 run finish to it. “We did all the right things and totally dominated that set.”
In addition to serving, Landerman noted her team did a good job blocking in the second set and beyond. She noted blocking has made a huge difference all season, whether Ripon records the block kill or not.
The Ripon head coach also was pleased with her team’s passing and offensive attack in the match.
“When our net play is good and our offense is running well, we credit that to our passers and our setter because you can have great hitters, but if you aren’t getting them the ball, then you can’t utilize that,” Landerman said. “And we did a great job of that in those next three sets.”
Service aces: Downs 5, Kovalaske 2, Zimmerman 2, Mills 2; Kills: Kovalaske 16, Pinnow 7, Mills 6; Block kills: Miller 6, Kovalaske 2, Pinnow 2; Digs: Downs 25, Mills 13, Radloff 12, Zimmerman 10, Kovalaske 8; Assists: Zimmerman 31.
Future of the team
The loss to Sun Prairie marked the final high school match for seniors Lexi Miller, Emma Pinnow, Avery Downs, Cassandra Jennings and Evelyn Norton.
Landerman noted the final match always is “a little bittersweet” as it’s always is tough to end on a loss, but that the five seniors have plenty to be proud of.
“They worked very hard,” she said. “They worked well together. They invested in the program and they invested in this season, as unique as it was. It’s always hard to see that last match and see that end because of what they did this season.”
She added the Tigers will miss the strengths that the seniors brought to the program, which includes attitude, perseverance and leadership.
While those will be big shoes to fill, Landerman is optimistic about the future of the program.
“I believe the future is very bright for Ripon volleyball,” she said. “Our junior varsity and JV2 squads both had good seasons, productive seasons, competitive and successful seasons.
“We have a lot of kids that have invested in the game. We had a big turnout this year and we had teams with big numbers and that’s always a plus. But we also had kids that really truly wanted to learn the game and perfect their skills, so that’s a plus ending this season.”
Landerman also was impressed with the improvement she saw this past season.
“I kept saying to the kids that we normally have a 12-week season,” she said. “We had a seven-week season and the amount of growth we made in seven weeks was amazing at all three levels, and it just kept getting better.
“We weren’t even peaking; we just kept getting better and better, and it would have been fun to add another five weeks to the season to see where we would have been at the end.”