As it turned out, Muskego boys volleyball head coach Joe Arbinger had his team’s WIAA state quarterfinal match with Marquette pretty well-pegged.
Going into the dual, Arbinger was looking for long, back-and-forth games, with the match decided by which team was able to pull out most of the crucial points.
Unfortunately for his squad, the Hilltoppers claimed many of the big points in edging the Warriors, 25-22, 24-26, 25-22, 25-23, on Friday night at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
“There was nothing that we didn’t expect,” Arbinger said in a crowded hallway minutes after the match. “We knew it was going to be tough, we knew it was going to be close. We wanted to play as hard as we could, and we knew they (the Hilltoppers) were going to play as hard as they could.”
The loss ended the season for Muskego (26-7 in duals) in the state quarterfinals for the second straight year, while Marquette (22-7) went on to challenge unbeaten Appleton North in Saturday’s semifinals.
Muskego had its chances, holding early four or five-point leads in each of the three games it lost. In the first game, the Warriors led most of the way and were up 18-13, only to see Marquette rattle off five straight points to pull into an 18-18 tie.
With the score at 21-21, the Hilltoppers tallied three straight points, including a pair of kills from senior outside hitter Greg Mattern.
Senior hitter Allen Grunert kept Muskego alive with a kill to make it 24-22, but Marquette placed a hard shot just inside the corner to close out game one.
“The game one lead loss hurt us,” Arbinger said. “We had it; we had them on the ropes and just couldn’t finish it off. We gave up a couple of runs.”
Marquette looked to be taking command at the start of the second game, bolting to a 7-2 advantage, but this time, the Warriors came back, scoring five straight to tie the contest.
After four more ties, Muskego took a 20-14 lead on a block by senior Steve Cotton. The Hilltoppers rallied behind a pair of kills and a block from Mattern to tie things at 22-22.
Marquette was up 24-23 when Muskego senior outside hitter Sammy Pedersen blasted a kill. Muskego scored the next point to go up 25-24, then ended the game with a tip play at the net.
“In game two, it worked in our favor,” Arbinger said. “We got the points at the right time.”
In the next game, the Warriors took a 13-9 lead with the help of three kills and a block by senior outside hitter Tony Mack.
Marquette came back to tie it at 15-15, and the game was tied five more times, the last at 20-20. The Hilltoppers assumed a three-point lead, then closed it on a kill from Mattern.
“In game three again, it was a couple points here or there,” Arbinger said. “It was close the whole way. We gave up a couple points at the wrong time.”
The pattern continued into game four, in which Muskego led 12-7. Marquette went on a 6-1 run to tie it at 13-13. It was tied three more times before the Hilltoppers took a narrow lead, then won it on a kill from junior middle hitter Jake Dowler.
“We failed to capitalize on a couple of opportunities,” Arbinger said, “but that’s volleyball. They let us back into the game, we let them back into the game. Either way, I think it was a good, even match all the way through.”
Mack, who finished with 11 kills, said, “We fought our hardest, trying to get each point. Marquette’s serve was inconsistent, but tough, and when you serve tough, it’s hard to pass.”
Pedersen led Muskego with 13 kills, while sophomore setter Matt Pedersen had 21 assists, senior libero Joe Kuchler 10 digs, Sammy Pedersen and Mack each two blocks and Matt Pedersen and junior setter Ryan Alvine each two aces.
Junior outside hitter Joe Coplan collected 18 kills for Marquette.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys,” Arbinger said. “These guys have played like a family, and they are a family. They bring out the best in each other. There’s no disappointment; I can’t ask for anything more. I like their hustle, their desire, their heart.”
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