GREEN BAY — Waterloo simply had no answer.
The Aquinas High School volleyball team took momentum early and never let it go as in sweeping the Pirates 25-13, 25-17, 25-18 in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal matchup at the Resch Center on Friday.
The third-seeded Blugolds (31-3) move on to face top seed Howards Grove for the state championship on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
Senior Lexi Donarski led all hitters with 21 kills, and the Blugolds teamed up for nine aces as they rarely trailed en route to the program’s first WIAA state championship appearance.
The tightest set of the matchup for Aquinas was the one with the largest margin of victory. The Blugolds closed the first set with 15 of the final 19 points to open with the 25-13 win. Aquinas led 10-9 in set one before five straight points off the serving of Kayla Bahr, followed soon after with five consecutive points from Victoria Nolte to gab a commanding 20-11 lead. Natalie Warren’s kill started four-point serve to clinch the win, a stretch Warren capped with a block for the opening set win.
“I was really proud of how our girls came out in that first set,” Aquinas coach Nellie George said. “I think we were really focused. I think we had a really good game plan they were able to execute. Our energy on the floor was great, our energy on the bench was great. It was a total team effort today, and I’m really proud.”
Aquinas carried the momentum the rest of the way, racing out to a 10-3 victory in the second as the Pirates got no closer than five points the rest of the way.
Early dominance set the stage for the sweep as two aces from Bahr to go with kills from Donarski and Taylor Theusch helped Aquinas take an early 4-0 lead. The Pirates (31-11) scored two points to cut the deficit in half, but three straight kills from Donarski put momentum back in the Blugolds’ court. Waterloo stayed within striking distance before four points in a row that included an ace from Nolte pushed a 15-12 lead to 19-12 on the way to victory.
Theusch had a team-high three aces for the Blugolds while Donarski, Bahr and Nolte each had two as a part of a serving group that made life difficult on the Pirate defense.
“They targeted us well, went for the lines (and) the sidelines,” Waterloo coach Christy Mosher said of Aquinas’ serving. “They did an excellent job serving on the day.”
George said the program has put more of an emphasis on serving than in years past and was pleased to see it come into play on the state stage.
“For us, it was wonderful to see that come to fruition that we were able to get some points off a serve and not allow them to have a second touch on the ball,” George said.
Joslyn Wolff and Brooke Mosher had 12 and 11 kills, respectively, for Waterloo. Mosher entered the state tournament with a team-high 524 kills but was limited to a zero percent kill percentage with 11 errors on 40 attempts.
“It’s one of those things where she’s talented, and today doesn’t dictate how she is as a player,” George said of the University of Illinois commit. “She could’ve done some serious damage to us today, but we knew we had to take care of her. The conversation in the locker room was know where she is at every point, watch her body angles, be ready for her tips, watch her tips and know it’s coming.”
Becker added five kills while Warren had four as the athletic front row of the Blugolds was too much for the Pirates.
“They had good size, good jumping ability, a good group of athletes,” coach Mosher said of Aquinas. “They were getting a lot of touches on our balls.”
The Blugolds last advanced to the Division 3 state tournament in 2016, falling in the semifinals to Howards Grove. Several members of the volleyball team have state championship experience in other sports, including girls basketball and track and field titles last season.
“I think that since some of us have other sports that come before volleyball it’s different,” Donarski said of the state volleyball atmosphere. “But the whole atmosphere is always a lot of fun and it’s a different group of girls, and we have a lot of fun together.”
Aquinas now turns its attention to Howards Grove who scored a dominant victory over Fall Creek (25-11, 25-15, 25-7) in the other semifinal matchup. The Tigers (43-4) were the top-ranked team in the final Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association Division 2 state coaches poll of the regular season. Waterloo entered state as the second-ranked team with Aquinas fourth.
“I think (Saturday’s) going to be the same as today for us, whoever show up ready to go is going to see some success tomorrow,” George said of the matchup with Howards Grove. “I think you’re going to have two teams that are going to show up ready to go, so I’m excited for it.
“I think it’s going to be a battle of some good volleyball.”