MILWAUKEE — Leave it to Kyle Semrad to keep it in perspective.
After Semrad and his Horlick High School boys volleyball teammates lost to powerful Milwaukee Marquette 25-13, 25-17, 25-15 in a WIAA State Volleyball Tournament quarterfinal Friday afternoon at Wisconsin Lutheran College, there was understandably a trace of disappointment in his voice.
“It’s always tough to lose and see your season end,” Semrad said.
But then Semrad’s tone changed. It was more upbeat, more positive. And rightfully so. The Rebels proved a lot of naysayers wrong this season, the ones who didn’t think they would win 26 matches, much less advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2013.
To Semrad, one match shouldn’t define a season he and his teammates found so rewarding.
“I’m extremely proud of this team,” Semrad said. “We came a long way this season after going 9-16 last season. So, I’m not disappointed.
“Marquette is No. 1 for a reason. We left everything on the floor. If you’re going to play your last game, I can’t think of a better place to play it than at the state tournament.”
There wasn’t any question the Rebels were in the right frame of mind to play Marquette, a perennial state volleyball power with eight state championships on its resume.
The Rebels were noticeably pumped up and prepared for the challenge that was presented to them before a near-capacity crowd. Yet, it was abundantly evident the Hilltoppers were equally motivated.
The Hilltoppers, with a slew of exceptional hitters and a rangy frontline, sent a loud and clear message by winning the first three points. They then extended their lead to 10-3 and gradually pulled away behind their dynamic duo of Aidan Frazier, a 6-foot-4 right side hitter, and Liam Schroeder, a 6-8 middle hitter who has accepted a scholarship to the University of Southern California.
But after the Hilltoppers won the first game 25-13, Horlick showed its resolve in the second game. The Rebels trailed 12-10 – Justin Michaels and Zach Romano each had a kill in that span — and were playing with confidence.
But Marquette weathered the storm by going on a 6-1 run and eventually winning the important second game. The Rebels’ effort didn’t go unnoticed by Hilltoppers coach Eric Sullivan, who was quick to praise the Rebels and their coach, Dana Marcinkus.
“I like what Dana is doing with her program,” said Sullivan, whose wife, Julie, is a graduate of St. Catherine’s and who was a teammate of former Horlick star Greg Romano at Ball State. “They never gave up. They’re a good team. We just had their number tonight.”
Up 2-0, the Hilltoppers, took command quickly in the third game, moving to a 6-1 lead and never looked back in advancing to the semifinals.
Marcinkus, suffice to say, was clearly impressed with Marquette.
“They’re just a solid all-around team,” Marcinkus said. “They have no weakness. They are the best team we’ve played, without question.”
Frazier and Schroeder recorded eight and seven kills, respectively, for Marquette. Conor Ward was also outstanding for the Hilltoppers, finishing with 25 assists.
Semrad was credited with a match-high nine kills, while Romano had five digs, tying him for the team lead in that statistical category with senior Eric Barrientez. Barrientez also had a team-high 16 assists.
Like Semrad, Barrientez ended his prep volleyball career with his head up.
“We had high expectations for ourselves this season,” Barrientez said. “We wanted to get Horlick back to state again. We wanted to bring the tradition back.”
Consider it mission accomplished.