Coming back to the form it's been accustomed to for the last 15 years or so, the Menomonee Falls girls volleyball team has gotten its 2016 campaign off to a fast start.
The Indians beat North Shore Conference power Nicolet, 25-16, 25-16, 24-26, 25-22, on Aug. 24, and then passed a major test when it earned fourth in the 20-plus team powerhouse Joust Tournament at Homestead on Aug. 26 and 27.
"This was nice to see, a very pleasant surprise," said veteran coach J.C. Bruns. "It was little unexpected and definitely something to build on."
Something the Indians can build on is the way the Joust ended as they lost to eventual champion, Greater Metro Conference rival and two-time WIAA state champion DSHA, 25-14, 25-23, in the semifinals. The Indians had to turn around and play the Dashers again in their GMC dual-meet opener on Aug. 30.
"They've replaced a few players," said Bruns of the Dashers, "but that means they've replaced them with good players. We played the second set close, and that gave us some encouragement. We'll see what happens."
The Indians will head over to the Mukwonago Invite on Saturday, Sept. 3. Joust runner-up Oconomowoc will be there.
Falls, after a pair of slightly off years following the 2013 state championship season, has a veteran team and is prepared to deal with the likes of DSHA and Oconomowoc this fall.
"We have nine kids back this year," said Bruns. "We lost only one real impact player. We just have a lot of experience to work with."
Leading that list is senior all-state candidate and Air Force recruit outside hitter Mackenize Robertson. The only other seniors are outside hitter Ebun Olapo and setter Mckenna Micech. Juniors include Cami Stigler, Brianna Becker, Ciara Gilbertson, Alex Guequierre, Sarah Navin and Rachel Murphy.
"One of the advantages we have this year is that this group played together for much of last year," Bruns said, "so they're a little further along than we hoped, and that gives us a chance to work on some new aspects to our game."
Those include Olapo moving to the right side and working more on serve receive.
"The biggest thing we take away from that first week is that we still need to work on our serve receive," Bruns said. "We were able to win a few matches despite not having that be the best it could be. Hopefully, we will not have to walk that tightrope all season long."
He said Robertson has worked hard to become a fine all-around player and Murphy, who was a back-up middle hitter last season, has become a key part of the rotation in the middle in the early going.
As noted, Bruns was pleased with the effort at the Joust. In pool play on Aug. 26, they downed Homestead (25-9, 25-15), Arrowhead (25-20, 25-27, 15-11) and Burlington (20-25, 25-18, 15-10). That advanced them into power pool play on the morning of Aug. 27, where they downed defending WIAA D4 state champion Wausau Newman Catholic (25-23, 17-25, 17-15) and Appleton North (25-23, 25-21).
That put them into the Gold Division semifinals, where they fell to DSHA. The Dashers then beat Oconomowoc, 25-18, 25-17, in the final.
Robertson had 50 kills to lead the office, while Micech had 85 assists and Stigler 41 digs.
As noted, Bruns was encouraged.
"This was just a really good start," he said.