In the end, the closer finished the game in spectacular fashion.
Burlington High School senior outside hitter Abby Koenen made the last kill of her high school volleyball career count.
Boy, did she ever.
Koenen’s emphatic spike finished off River Falls and the Demons won the WIAA Division 1 state championship at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
Burlington (35-10) beat previously undefeated River Falls (42-1) in five games, 25-20, 25-15, 22-25, 17-25, 15-13 to win its third state championship in seven years.
“The difference in emotions throughout this match was crazy,” said Burlington co-coach Teri Leach. “We went through every emotion you could possibly think of. But in the end, it was very rewarding for everybody.”
The Demons won the 2011 and 2012 championships and have been to the state tournament in eight of the past nine seasons. Last year, Burlington made it to the championship match, but lost to Neenah 3-0.
At first, it appeared the Demons would cruise to this year’s championship, winning the first two games in apparently easy fashion.
Burlington took the first set 25-20, then jumped to a 19-9 lead in the second set before finishing off the Wildcats 25-15.
“We executed out game plan almost perfectly,” Leach said. “We served well, we controlled the ball and we were able to get them out of system and limit their opportunities. We were playing so well in the first two sets and then everything just flipped.”
River Falls — which had not lost more than two sets in any match this season — showed why it was undefeated coming into the tournament. The Wildcats grabbed a 10-8 lead, then rolled to a 14-9 advantage. The Demons narrowed the deficit to 21-18, but River Falls won four of the next eight points to claim a 25-22 win.
In the fourth set, the Wildcats gathered more strength and took an 11-8 lead, then extended that to 17-10. The Demons never really threatened and lost the set 25-17, sending the match to a fifth and final, winner-take-all set.
“We made a lot of errors in the third set and then the fourth set was all River Falls,” Leach said. “They made some big time adjustments to what we were doing and that put some pressure on us. We got tense. We spent our timeouts trying to get the players to relax, to enjoy the moment and just play.”
In the fifth set, neither side could grab a sizable lead. The set was tied 6-6 and 9-9 before the Demons took a 10-9 lead on a block by Kaley Blake and Camryn Lukenbill.
It was the first time the Demons had led since the second set. “We did finally have that moment when we were ahead, but we just turned around and fell behind again,” Leach said.
River Falls battled back to take a 13-11 lead. The Demons tied it once again 13-13, thanks to an outstanding play by junior Maddie Berezowitz, Leach said. “Maddie came out of nowhere to get this incredible dig,” she said. “That put them out of system and got the point that tied it up. That allowed us to serve aggressively.”
An attack error by River Falls on the ensuing serve gave Burlington a 14-13 lead. The Demons then served for set point, sending the ball to the Wildcats’ weakest spot. On the return, the Demons got the ball, sent it to Blake, who sent a perfect pass to set up Koenen.
Leach watched the play unfold and knew Koenen would finish things once and for all.
“It’s a play we practiced all the time,” Leach said. “As soon as I saw Kaley send over the pass, I knew it was all over. There was no way Abby was going to be denied.”
And Koenen indeed finished the marathon. She got to Blake’s assist on the left side of the court, leaped high into the air, and slammed the ball down for the point that won the set, the match and the state championship.
“That was the very first moment I knew we had it,” Leach said with a laugh.
Koenen finished the five games with 26 kills, while Brooklyn VandeHei added 10 and Emily Alan had eight. Blake had 51 assists, while Samantha Naber had a team-high 16 digs. Blake and Koenen each added 10 digs.
The school will celebrate the team’s victory at an assembly at Burlington High School at 9 a.m. Monday, while the City of Burlington will honor the team with a parade through the city starting at 6 p.m. Monday.
At Resch Center, Green Bay
Burlington (36-10) def. River Falls (42-1) 25-20, 25-15, 22-25, 17-25, 15-13.
BURLINGTON STAT LEADERS — Kills: Abby Koenen 26. Blocks: Emily Alan 2. Assists: Kaley Blake 51. Digs: Samantha Naber 16.
Lakeside Lutheran (39-5) def. Luxemburg-Casco (41-9) 19-25, 13-25, 25-22, 25-23, 15-10.
Lake Country Lutheran (45-5) def. Eau Claire Regis (22-7) 23-25, 25-12, 25-17, 25-19.
Clayton (32-2) def. Oshkosh Lourdes Academy (36-10) 25-15, 25-20, 25-27, 25-22.