Verona struggled to stay in its offensive system and couldn’t contain Sun Prairie’s high-powered offense Thursday, Oct. 31, in the Division 1 Sun Prairie Sectional semifinals.

The Wildcats kept the match going by taking the third set, but never found their groove in the fourth set of a 25-23, 25-21, 19-25, 25-7 loss to the Cardinals in Verona.

The two Big Eight Conference rivals split their two regular-season meetings. Verona, the 2 seed in the sectional, went on the road and beat Sun Prairie in four sets en route to winning the conference title. The third-seeded Cardinals (40-7) beat the Wildcats in three sets in the championship at the Big Eight Tournament in Janesville.

Verona (34-6) controlled the third set with its season on the line.

“I asked them how bad they wanted it,” Wildcats coach Jillian Bauer said. “You’re on your home court, and at that point it was about playing with pride. The seniors have been in that position before, and kudos to them to get us back in it in the third set.”

Verona scored six straight points to take a 7-3 lead it would not relinquish. Amelia Hust served three aces, Megan Touchett slammed a kill, and Maddy Kelley recorded a stuff block during the stretch.

Five Wildcat service errors kept the Cardinals in the third, but a hitting error and an ace by Delaney McIntosh forced a fourth set.

Verona had three more service errors in the fourth, and Bauer used both timeouts in the set’s first 12 points with her team trailing 10-2. Sun Prairie’s Kristen Anderson served four aces in a row after a Verona hitting error to push the Cardinals’ lead to 15-2.

“We’ve been preaching the serve and pass, and we really struggled with it,” Bauer said. “We also struggled to find the court with our serves.”

Four service errors in the first set cost the Wildcats. Sun Prairie jumped out to a 5-1 lead before the Wildcats stormed back with four straight points.

Verona went on another 4-0 run to take a 9-8 lead, capped by back-to-back kills by Kelley. The Wildcats used a 6-1 run to lead 16-11, capped by a Jordan Armstrong ace.

Sun Prairie went on a 6-1 run of its own to tie it at 17, and after a Touchett kill and Hust ace, the Cardinals rallied off four straight points.

Verona’s Rachel Karnosky served an ace to tie it at 22, but the Cardinals closed the set on a 3-1 run, capped by a kill by Mia Livingston and a stuff block by Josie Halbleib.

The second set featured nine ties. Sun Prairie again jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but Verona rallied for four straight points.

The Wildcats used another 4-0 run to take a 12-10 lead. Touchett hammered a kill, Karnosky recorded an ace, Armstrong and Kelley combined on a stuff block, and a Sun Prairie hit went just wide of the line.

A kill and ace by Armstrong and a kill by McIntosh made it 16-13 Verona, but Sun Prairie went on a 6-2 run to take a 19-18 lead. The Wildcats had a pair of crucial service errors, and the Cardinals scored the final four points of the second.

Four of the six Verona seniors led the Wildcats in a stat category. Armstrong, a University of Pennsylvania commit, dished out 23 assists. Touchett finished with eight kills, Kelley had four blocks, and Hust, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh commit, served six aces. McIntosh, a sophomore, added 10 digs.

Karnosky came on as a serving specialist and defensive specialist, while Rachel Witthuhn had a pair of blocks and kills in their final games as Wildcats.

“The seniors have definitely left a mark on this program,” Bauer said. “They were open to me coming in and responded really well. I’m already excited about what’s to come. Hopefully we can use this as a learning experience, especially for the underclassmen.”

Loyola-Chicago commit KJ McNabb slammed a match-high 13 kills for the Cardinals. Halbleib dished out 31 assists and added three blocks. Emily Mickelson had 13 digs. In addition to her four straight aces, Anderson had three blocks. Maggie Allaman also had three blocks.

Big Eight All-Conference

Armstrong, Kelley and sophomore outside hitter Claudia Bobb were first-team all-conference selections, it was announced Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Hust was named to the second team. Touchett and McIntosh received honorable mention honors.