GREEN BAY — Fall Creek volleyball coach Matt Prissel didn’t mince words when describing Howards Grove.
“We’ve watched film on them and we’ve been following them all year, and we knew they were ... a Murderers’ Row,” said Prissel, using a term most often associated with the hard-hitting New York Yankees lineup of the late 1920s.
And what did Prissel think after watching first-hand as the No. 1 seed Tigers beat his No. 4 seed Crickets 25-11, 25-15, 25-7 on Friday in the WIAA Division 3 state semifinals at the Resch Center?
“I don’t think I would change that phrase at all,” he said. “They were a legit outfit. To quote one of my mentors ... ‘Slap me if I’m wrong, but I think that team we just played could probably compete and potentially win a state title in any division.’ Howards Grove is for real.”
Fall Creek, which entered the day riding a 21-match winning streak, finished the season with a 40-4 record. Howards Grove, which features two sophomores and one freshman in its starting lineup, improved to 43-4 and advanced to the state final against Aquinas (31-3).
The Crickets were playing for the first time in the WIAA state volleyball tournament, prompting Prissel to describe his players as “legends in Fall Creek, and that legend status is going to live forever.”
“Even though it didn’t work out for us ... this group of young ladies — who have tears in their eyes right now — I’ve told them I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Prissel said.
“The run they went on and what they did for the community of Fall Creek, how they brought us here for the Road to the Resch, they’re going to be a special group for me and a special group for our community.”
In particular, Prissel expressed gratitude to the team’s eight seniors — Allison Dunham, Abigail Bell, Madisen Johnson, Gabby LeMay, Malerie Vining, Camille Wilson and co-captains Quinlyn Rubeck and Catelyn Schulz.
“In Fall Creek, volleyball is going to have a special place for a long time going forward,” Prissel said, “and this group is a special group that helped get it there.”
Rubeck said it was “awesome” to see the squad develop a strong bond throughout the season.
“It’s just been super special, and it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world,” said Rubeck, who recorded five assists, three digs, one kill and one ace.
Schulz fought back tears while saying, “I’ve spent every day for the past two and a half months with these people ... and I wouldn’t want to spend it with anybody else.”
Schulz finished with five assists, eight digs and one kill.
Other stat leaders for the Crickets included Vining (four kills), Bell (10 digs, one ace), sophomore Gianna Vollrath (two kills, three digs), Johnson (two kills), junior Emma Ryan (one kill), Wilson (one kill), LeMay (three digs), Dunham (two digs) and junior Emily Madden (one dig).
Headlining the Murderers’ Row lineup for Howards Grove was sophomore Karissa Kaminski, freshman Saige Damrow and senior Emily Bruckschen, who combined for 34 kills.
Fall Creek also struggled to handle the Tigers’ devastating serves, which netted 14 aces.
“Their serving program was fantastic,” Prissel said. “They put so much pressure on us. ... They just are really good at every facet of the game.”
However, none of that changes the way Prissel feels about his Crickets.
“I love coaching them,” he said. “It’s been a heck of a ride. ... Without a doubt this is the highlight of this year. People talk about the best times of their lives. This last two and a half months will rank up there as one of the best times of my life.”
Howards Grove 3, Fall Creek 0
Howards Grove def. Fall Creek 25-11, 25-15, 25-7.
Fall Creek leaders: Malerie Vining 4 kills, Abigail Bell 10 digs, Catelyn Schulz 8 digs and 5 assists, Quinlyn Rubeck 5 assists. Howards Grove leaders: Karissa Kaminski 15 kills, Emily Bruckschen 12 kills, Emma Baierl 33 assists. Records: Fall Creek 40-4, Howards Grove 43-4.