It was a match that remained a stepping stone for the Hamilton girls volleyball team in the WIAA Division 1 sectional Oct. 27. Even though the Chargers fell to Menomonee Falls, 25-19, 19-25, 25-18, 25-19, it still represented their first trip to a sectional since 2007.
"That's been our goal all year, to win a regional match," coach Traci Buhr said. "That hasn't happened for nine years for us, so it was huge. With these seniors, they've come from almost nothing to being a name in the state, and that's what we're proud of."
Hamilton walked into the Arrowhead High School gym on fire, taking an 8-2 lead right out of the gate on Falls in the first set. The Indians, however, struck back with a five-point run and a back-breaking 11-point run with Ashley Guenveur at the service line to take an 18-12 edge.
"We came out with a lot of excitement and adrenaline," Buhr said. "We kept saying, 'We have no pressure on us, we need to put the pressure on them,' and then we put the pressure on ourselves with serve receive. But not to take anything away from them because they served incredible all day. We are known for being a strong serving team, but we had to play pretty much perfect the rest of our game to beat such a talented team."
Hamilton did take the second set, 25-19, and then grabbed a 4-1 lead in the third set behind two quick kills by sophomore McKenna Packer (team-high four blocks) and an ace by freshman Sarah Schrader. From there, it was all Falls.
"We started off a little slow, but I have confidence in my team that we will bring it back," Falls senior Mckenna Micech said. "We let them have the momentum in the beginning, but we stole it back and went from there."
Micech finished with 20 assists and three blocks, and Guenveur posted four aces. Mackenzie Robertson led Falls with 16 kills.
"We started a trend I didn't like, letting them get out to a three-, four-, five-point lead at the start of each set," Menomonee Falls coach J.C. Bruns said. "We had that long run on Ashley's serve that got us going, and thank goodness. That's a tough team over there."
Morgan Gramins finished her career with 12 kills to lead Hamilton, and fellow senior Tori Johnstone added eight. Senior Macy Thurler finished with 25 digs. Ellie Sumiec was the other senior on the roster.
"I feel for these seniors because they brought this program to where they are, but we have a lot coming back next year," Buhr said.
That includes junior setter Nicole Macaluso (34 assists) and a number of classmates, including Emily Hirn (four aces). The run for Hamilton is even more impressive, considering Kayla Dowler, an honorable-mention All State pick as a freshman last year, moved out of state. The team's other top player in 2015, Tori Speckin, graduated.
"Traci has done a phenomenal job with that team," Buhr said. "We had a lot of experience coming back but not a lot of experience advancing (in the tournament). We haven't been past Saturday the last two years, so in some respects, we're just as green as them."
The Falls team advanced to face Arrowhead at Germantown on Saturday, looking for a ninth state appearance since 2000 and first since winning the 2013 state title.
"Overall, this year, we really want it," Micech said. "In past years, we didn't even make it past regionals. I was brought up freshman year on the state team. It was cool to go, and I for sure want that feeling again."
Cami Stigler finished with 21 digs for Falls, and Sarah Navin and Rachel Murphy each had three blocks.