Verona senior middle hitter Maddy Kelley and her teammates are back in a familiar position with unfinished business.
Kelley led Verona to a 25-18, 24-26, 25-11, 25-20 win over Onalaska in a Division 1 regional championship Saturday, Oct. 26. It’s the third straight year the Wildcats have won a regional title.
Second-seeded Verona (34-5) will host third-seeded and sectional host Sun Prairie in the sectional semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s really exciting because we have worked so hard this year,” Kelley said. “There has been a lot of time and effort dedicated to it.”
The Wildcats are two wins away from reaching the state tournament. Verona knocked off Sun Prairie in four sets in the regular season Sept. 26. The Cardinals then edged the Wildcats in the championship match of the Big Eight Conference Tournament.
If Verona can get by Sun Prairie, it could see another familiar foe in Waunakee. The Warriors have beaten the Wildcats in the sectional the last two years.
“I think this time we are not going to let it happen again,” Kelley said. “I think we are coming in with the mindset that we are unstoppable and we can do anything we set our mind to.”
To advance to the sectional, the Wildcats had to get by the Hilltoppers.
Verona jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the first set. Onalaska rallied and got within 17-16, but the Wildcats responded. Kelley scored on a tip and senior setter Jordan Armstrong had a stuff block to help the Wildcats take a 22-18 lead. Sophomore Claudia Bobb smashed a kill and Onalaska had a pair of hitting errors to end the set.
Strong serving gave Verona a lift in the second set. Armstrong notched two aces, while Bobb and senior libero Amelia Hust also had aces to help the Wildcats take an 8-3 lead.
Verona senior outside hitter Megan Touchett had a key block and a tip to give the Wildcats an 18-14 lead, but the Hilltoppers rallied for four straight points to tie the set. The Hilltoppers ultimately tied the match at a set apiece after two Verona hitting errors.
The Wildcats rolled in the third set. Bobb had eight straight service points to give the Wildcats a 10-2 lead. Kelley took over at the net with three kills during a six-point run that extended the lead to 19-8.
“I think the key was our serve and pass game,” Kelley said. “Those are probably the most important parts of volleyball. We served really tough, especially in the third set, and that got them out of system. We also pushed the tempo on our side and ran the offense pretty fast which got them out of system and allowed us to get a good lead on them.”
The final set was another see-saw battle. Bobb delivered an ace and a kill to give the Wildcats a 10-6 lead. The Hilltoppers rallied to take an 18-17 lead, but Bobb answered with a tip to tie the set at 18. Verona closed the match with a 7-2 run.
“I think they got in their heads a little bit and had a couple of errors on their side,” Kelley said. “We took advantage of it.”