New Berlin United had another victorious season this year, finishing with a record of 25-12 and falling just short of the state championship game. It was the team’s third straight trip to state in the last three years. In the state semifinal match against Catholic Memorial, United lost in a hard-fought battle to conclude their season.
United lost their last match at state 1-3 to Catholic Memorial. After losing the first two sets 17-25 and 20-25, United gained some momentum and took back the third set by winning 25-23. Memorial came back and won 25-19 in the fourth set. Memorial then moved on to the championship game to beat Marquette and win the state championship.
Although they didn’t pull off the win, United didn’t perform poorly, according to head coach Nick Maske.
“Our semifinal match against Catholic Memorial was another great game for us, despite the loss. It was the best we blocked all season,” said Maske. “Our passing and hitting weren’t as strong as they were on Friday night, so if we were to pass and hit better on Saturday morning we could have definitely have pulled off another upset.”
Before their loss to Memorial, United was going strong and obtained a victory over Kaukauna in the state quarterfinal. They won in three sets 25-21, 25-18, and 25-23 in a very close third set to move on to the semifinals.
United’s juniors Zach Just and Kyle Kraninger (IKE) both helped the team out with 13 kills each. Maske seemed incredibly proud of how the team played in this match.
“The match against Kaukauna was our best overall match of the entire season,” he said. “I wouldn’t have changed anything; if we played like we did on Friday the entire season, we would have won many tournaments and lost very few matches.”
United did a lot of work in practice that week to prepare for Kaukauna. According to coach Maske, the boys studied how Kaukauna played to create defensive and offensive strategies to win the match, and they stuck with that plan.
“It also helped that we were the underdogs, and our boys felt no pressure going into the match,” Maske added.
This was United’s fifth time going to state and they’ve made 3 straight trips to state in the last couple years. All the state tournament games were played at Wisconsin Lutheran College. The energy was high in the gym and there was a huge fan turnout on both sides. Coach Maske points out, “On Friday, our boys came out of the locker room with tons of energy [fed by the United fans].”
After taking first place in the Woodland conference and winning the conference tournament, the team advanced to sectionals. There they faced Racine Park and Muskego.
In an intense battle for state against Muskego, New Berlin United came back from being down 0-2 and won the sectional final 3-2.
“Thursday’s sectional game was absolutely crazy,” said Just, United’s outside hitter. “The way everyone battled back from the 0-2 deficit was incredible.”
United lost the first two sets 21-25 and 17-25. Just when it looked like Muskego was going to be the team to advance to state, United picked up some major momentum in the third set.
“Game three was the game we needed and the momentum our team [possessed] shifted,” said senior right side hitter Ray LaMora (West). After being down that much, United needed to set small goals if they wanted to win the match.
“We all had to play the game like every point mattered, we set small goals of beating them to 5 points, to 10 points, and then getting one point before they could score one point,” Just explained.
The third set was tied up 23-23, but back to back kills by Just and sophomore setter Brian Voight (IKE) won them the third set and gave them all the momentum they needed to come back and win set 4 and 5. “We rallied together and with the help of every person on the team,” said senior middle hitter Matt Obradovich (West), “we came back and ended up winning.”
United expected a tough battle in the sectional final, but had no doubt they would perform well.
“No team wants to almost make it to state, so both teams on Thursday will be driven and will fight for points,” said Maske. “I expect that our boys will leave it all on the court knowing that they have given their very best.”
Despite having some ups and downs this season, the team won eight of their nine conference matches in the regular season. They finished the season with a record of 25-12. United finished in the top half of all their tournaments too. They have again received the titles of Woodland Conference regular season champions and the Woodland Conference tournament champions.
Along with hard work, Maske explains what has led to the team’s success.
“I also think losing some matches has helped lead to success.” he said. “After a loss, the team is more motivated to fix things and more motivated to not let it happen again.”
In addition, Maske comments on how leadership is pushing the team ahead. He said the leadership among the players also pushes them to persevere through tough points in matches and tournaments.
“We have been focused and working on the defensive end of our game for the second half of the season,” Maske said. “We have found that we are getting more blocks and defensive digs because of this.” All these different strategies have helped United make it back to State.
Just like every team does, they had struggled a few times throughout the season. According to LaMora, the boys struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season but quickly recovered by the conference tournament where they showed they were a team to beat.
“We turned it around by giving all of our time and devotion to the game and making sure none of our teammates felt like they weren’t a part of the team,” said LaMora. United reflects positively on their season and looks forward to their future.
“The end of the season [finished] with New Berlin United returning to state for the fifth time in our short 11 year program history and our third trip to state in three years,” Maske said. “We are losing some amazing seniors, but this trip to state is setting us up for a great season next year.”