Menomonee Falls volleyball team wins state title in impressive fashion

Nov. 9, 2013

It was early Saturday evening and J. C. Bruns was hugging the WIAA State Division I girls volleyball championship trophy like it was one of his own children.

When the nine-year Menomonee Falls coach was advised that he should take great care to get that valuable piece of hardware home in one piece during what was no doubt a raucous and happy bus ride home, he just hugged it tighter and said "Oh I will, I will."

And then he thought about the Indians' dominant 25-17, 25-18, 25-16 rout of long-time nemesis Westosha Central in the state championship match at the Resch Center in Green Bay that was concluded just moments before.

He smiled, shook his head and said:

"They never wavered, they never worried, God bless 'em."

Meanwhile, two of the ringleaders of this happy event, this first volleyball title in Falls history and the first WIAA state team title of any kind for the Indians since the Falls North boys cross country team of 1982, were walking arm-in-arm towards the media room, towards a noisy and happy celebration with family, friends and coaches.

"It's like I talked about after we beat Mukwonago (in the sectional final) last week," said senior four-year letterwinner and setter Abby Becker. "We've been working hard and if we continued to work hard, we knew something like this could happen.

"The only thing I didn't know was, was how freaking great this would all be. I'm just so happy!"

She was yelling and crying and laughing all at once at that very moment, and so was her fellow four-year letterwinner outside hitter Simone Lee who had her arm draped over her shoulder.

The All-American, US Girls Youth National team member, likely state player of the year and the muscle of this whole Falls operation, Lee hugged her friend and teammate tighter when she said:

"This is the best feeling ever. When I played in Thailand (for the US Junior National team), I bonded with those girls, but not like this. I've known Abby since seventh grade. I've been working with her and the coaches for four amazing years.

"This is just amazing."

With the victory, the Indians (46-4 final match record) exorcised many demons, many of them with Westosha Central's name on them.

Falls had lost to the Falcons at state in 2003, 2004, and 2006. The 2006 was a semifinal crusher with the Indians up 2-1 in sets and leading late in the fourth set which they eventually lost in overtime.

Westosha went on to win the match and win the state title just as it had the other two years it had beaten the Indians.

Janelle Gabrielsen was an all-state outside hitter for that frustrated Indian team in 2006. She is now the head coach at Concordia University in Mequon and had been at the state tournament all weekend looking at potential recruits.

But the dispassionate evaluator of talent turned back into a proud alumnae as she watched this efficient, dominant effort by her alma mater.

"It's a great day," she said. "I'm just so proud of the Falls and I thought J.C. did a great job. ...I thought the kids were amazing."

They were.

The top-ranked-in-state Falls players were stunning in their dismantling of the fourth-ranked-in-state Falcon team that had come into the final with a 17-match winning streak.

The Indians never trailed for a point throughout all three sets as Lee (21 kills, 12 digs and three assists) was zeroed in right from the start and got a huge amount of help from Becker (six kills, 26 assists, and nine digs) and everyone else.

The Indians never let the Falcons (44-9) breathe and they seldom let the ball hit the floor.

"I liked the look in them right from the start," said Bruns, "and when Simone gets off early like that, everyone does better."

It was 6-1 in the first set before Westosha knew what had hit it and the lead never dropped below five. A Lee tip kill gave the Indians the first set.

Set two was almost a mirror image, as Falls went up 5-1 on three kills from Lee. The Falcons closed the gap to within one on a couple of occasions, but an 8-3 run in the middle gave Falls a working margin.

At the end, a tough spike by another four-year letterwinner Katherine Von Bank and another tip kill by Lee finished the set and put the Indians just fingertips away from their long-sought goal.

Von Bank, long the unsung hero of the trio of leaders, came up huge this night, as she was second on the team in kills with nine and had eight digs.

"She's a senior, a senior leader," said Bruns. "She's a fantastic defender, an effective hitter and she just does what she needs to do (to help the team win)."

"We never got rattled (throughout the three days of the tournament)," Von Bank said. "The past couple of nights, we were just very composed. We wanted this so very badly. It's awesome to be the first team in (Falls) history to do this."

Set three was almost anti-climatic. Falls again broke out to a 4-0 lead. Westosha got it to within two on a couple of occasions, but then a 4-0 run stretched the advantage from 12-9 to 16-9 and Falls was able to coast to the finish line.

The final four points scored in succession included a tip kill by Lee, a patented "kaboom" shot by Lee, a tip by Lee and the clincher, a block by Lyndsey Bassler and others.

That final effort sent the Indians into a joyous jumble onto the middle of the Resch Center floor.

They knew what they had done.

"It's the definition of tremendous," laughed Von Bank.

"We're just absolutely blessed," said Becker, wiping away a tear.

Her coach felt that way too.

Because he had a senior-dominated team and a program that had been to state 10 times but which had only one trip to the finals to show for that effort (under Jeff Thompson, Falls fell as an underdog to a powerful West Bend East team in 2000).

The expectations were large, the pressure tremendous, but despite all that, they succeeded.

"There was a sense of urgency," Bruns said. "We had these (three) kids who had been around for four years and we would be losing them next year.

"So everyone had the same sense of urgency. It was added pressure. I had gone through this moment in my mind many times. They worked so hard, they really deserved this.

"...Finally, finally, finally."



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