The Horlick High School boys volleyball team has a tall task ahead of itself at the WIAA State Volleyball Tournament, but the team got a quick head start on their preparation.
Within two hours of last Friday’s seeding meeting for the 54th annual tournament, the Rebels players and assistant coaches had located video of quarterfinal opponent Milwaukee Marquette and were already breaking it down.
Now that’s dedication.
“They are preparing,” first-year Horlick coach Dana Marcinkus said. “What they wanted was to be on the state stage. They deserve to be there and that’s a great way to do that.
“This is what they wanted, to go to state and have an opportunity to prove themselves. I’m really optimistic.”
The tournament begins at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee with quarterfinal matches Friday. The Rebels (26-10) play Marquette (41-4) in the first quarterfinal at 12:30 p.m.
Among those helping to find and break down the footage was senior outside hitter Kyle Semrad, the team’s leader in kills with 336.
“We were watching a lot of film of them on their trip to Canada,” said Semrad, who was joined in the film study by senior libero Henry Christensen and senior setter Eric Barrientez (setter), both team captains, and Horlick assistant coach Tom Pfeiffer. “We also had some game film of them against Catholic Memorial early in the season (Marquette won in five games).
“The biggest thing is that the two teams we prepared for before (Marquette), Westosha Central (sectional semifinal) and Tremper (sectional final), were more one-dimensional. Marquette is very balanced.”
That the Hilltoppers are. The eight-time WIAA state champions have six players with at least 115 kills, led by 6-foot-4 senior right-side hitter Aidan Frazier with 191 and 6-8 senior middle hitter Liam Schroeder, a USC recruit. Two of the other four also stand 6-4. Marquette has two good setters in senior Conor Ward (694 assists) and junior Charlie Brockman (294 assists).
The Rebels’ tallest players are the Barrientez brothers, Eric and sophomore outside hitter Matt, both at 6-4. Semrad and junior outside hitter Zach Romano are 6-2 and the other starting front-line player, senior middle hitter Justin Michaels, is 6-0.
Despite the height deficit the team has faced in several matches this season, Horlick has been a very good blocking team and that has helped them get to state.
“Blocking has been the key for us the last two matches,” Semrad said. “That’s what we’ve stressed to guys, especially against Tremper. We lost to them twice during the year, but we were getting eight to 10 more touches and that kept us in the match.
“Don’t make anything easy for their hitters and don’t let them get easy swings.”
Marcinkus said the Rebels are in the right mindset to take on the challenge of the Hilltoppers, and it will take a nearly flawless effort to knock off the defending state runner-up.
“We’re going to have to play our game,” Marcinkus said. “We can’t make a lot of silly mistakes. In the postseason, everybody has stepped up and done their jobs and I’m not worried about that. We’re focused on playing very clean without a lot of errors.
“We need to make our serves and make strong passes to Eric. Our hitters are playing smart and they’ve been practicing working around blocks. Our hitters have gotten good at seeing the block (and hitting around it).”
Semrad said he and his teammates will just go out, have fun and let the results speak for themselves.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Semrad said. “We just have to go out and swing a little harder, and dive for the ball like we haven’t dove before. We can’t come in scared — we have to go out there and go for it.”