Marquette Catholic had a pumpkin sitting behind the bench, players drinking honey between games and an answer for everything Preston did Friday night in a Class 1A Region 7 volleyball semifinal.
When the Mohawks (31-4) needed a critical point, that answer came from junior Lauren Swain in Marquette’s 25-18, 25-23, 25-20 victory.
“It was adrenaline,” Swain said of her kills in big moments. “We really want to win. It’s our dream to go to state. ... I just want to achieve it.”
In Game 2, Preston scored two points in a row — the second on a kill by Ryleigh Keeney — to pull within 24-23. But on the next point, Swain hit the game-winning kill crosscourt. In Game 3, Marquette led 17-8, but the Trojans fought back to make it 22-20. Swain knocked down a kill to start a three-point run that gave the Mohawks the match when Swain slammed down another kill.
“It was the best,” Swain said of her winning kill.
Marquette was able to put together a key run, or score a key point, to finish off each game after Preston made it close.
“It’s just finishing the game,” Marquette coach Jill Herrig said. “Basically, it’s really focusing. They knew they would have to, and mentally they had to be prepared for that.”
In Game 1, Preston (23-12) took a 16-15 lead, but then the Mohawks sprang to life. Danielle Bender hit a tip kill to even the score. Then Jacquel Frett served four points in a row, keyed by two aces.
Preston scored two of the next three points to cut Marquette’s lead to 20-18, but a hitting error by the Trojans put Marquette back on track.
Kelli Herrig had a solo block and a kill and Erica Seiverding served an ace to close Game 1.
During the break before Game 2, several Mohawks were taking swigs out of a honey bottle.
“The honey is like a shot of energy, a sugar rush,” Swain said. “It’s a natural energy.”
In Game 2, Marquette took a 20-16 after two consecutive kills by Frett. Preston scored four of the next five points. Brooke Krogman delivered two kills and served an ace and Keeney hit a kill to bring the Trojans to within one point.
The teams battled back and forth until Swain’s kill gave the Mohawks a commanding 2-0 lead in games.
“Things just weren’t clicking completely,” Preston coach Denise Larson said. “They gave it 100 percent. They gave it their all, but sometimes things don’t click.”
In Game 3, Marquette raced to a 17-8 lead, based a lot on several tip kills.
“We haven’t been good at digging up tips all year. We just don’t read them very well,” Larson said.
“We kind of adjust to their defense,” coach Herrig said. “I don’t like to tip normally. But there were times we had to, to get over their blockers. ... We’ve worked a lot in practice on seeing the open holes, open spots. They’re good at finding those holes.”
Preston responded with a 12-5 run — keyed by two kills from Stephanie Ries — to pull within two, but that set the stage for Swain to deliver the win to Marquette.
“They beat us last year, so it was good to get them in this round,” Marquette setter Kelsey Tebbe said.
“We knew it would be tough,” coach Herrig said. “We’ve seen Preston a lot this year. This was our fifth (match) with them. They’re known to be very scrappy. They have a lot of good athletes and Denise does a very nice job with them. We knew we’d have to come off strong.”
Swain may have had the biggest kills, but Kelli Herrig led the team with 12. Swain finished with eight and was one of five Mohawks to knock down four or more kills.
“I try to go to whoever’s on,” Tebbe said. “Everyone is a good hitter.”
The Mohawks’ good-luck charm — the pumpkin sat behind their bench for every point.
“That was at one of our chapels,” Tebbe said. “It comes to every practice and every game and it just watches us. Everyone signed it and wrote a quote on it.”
Swain said: “The pumpkin is a tradition our school has done in the past years. The seniors brought it back this year. It’s like our mascot.”
The season ended for the Trojans, which Larson said was “just tough” right now, but the good news for Preston is four of the seven starters return for next season.
Marquette, ranked seventh in the state in Class 1A, gets to play on and advances to the regional final against No. 6 Janesville next Tuesday in Manchester, with the winner advancing to the state tournament.
“They were in the championship game last year against Tripoli,” coach Herrig said. “I’ve checked their records with ours and it looks pretty comparable. We obviously have never played them before. We have to be prepared mentally and physically. We know they’re going to give us a hard match and we have to continue to play hard, play tough.”
All seven Marquette players who entered the game should be back next year. The Mohawks have only two seniors on their roster, but they don’t want to waste this opportunity.
“We still want to push as hard as we can this year,” Swain said.
Hopefully for Marquette, the honey and the pumpkin will still have the same effect after Halloween.
MARQUETTE CATHOLIC 25-25-25, PRESTON 18-23-20
Kills — Preston (Brooke Krogman 8, Ryleigh Keeney 8, Stephanie Ries 5); Marquette (Kelli Herrig 12, Danielle Bender 10, Lauren Swain 8). Assists — Preston (Cassie Aldis 21); Marquette (Kelsey Tebbe 33). Ace serves — Preston (Krogman 1, Keeney 1, Lizzie Meier 1); Marquette (Jacquel Frett 2). Blocks — Preston (Krogman 1, Keeney 1, Abbey Kilburg 1); Marquette (Herrig 3). Digs — Marquette (Frett 20, Herrig 16, Swain 12).