Just five years into its short up-and-down history, the Germantown boys volleyball team is making its first trip to the WIAA state tournament courtesy of a thrilling 22-25, 25-22, 16-25, 26-24, 15-12 victory over North Shore rival Nicolet Thursday night.
It's a unique group that includes star power of basketball heroes turned volleyball devotees Zak and Jake Showalter, Luke Fischer and Jon Averkamp.
Zak Showalter got the match-winning kill coming out of the middle in the fifth game while the 6-8 Fischer had an almost perfect hit percentage in coming up with 16 kills.
It was the kind of intense action that made it hard to hear in an overflowing Nicolet gym as the North Shore Conference co-champions, which split two matches this season, did battle in their most important contest of the fall.
Even the battle-tested Zak Showalter, who has played hoops before crowds of 6,000 and more, was amazed at the intensity of the scene.
"It was just like a basketball atmosphere in here," he said. "It went up and it went down. It was so easy to get up for a match like this."
At the core of this Germantown team are six seniors who have been with coach Brian Rushmer for four of the five years of this program, including a couple of struggling seasons.
They include outside hitter Matt Schultz, who led the team with 24 kills and carried the squad through some rocky moments in sets three and four, and libero Corey Petta who made dig after dig (17 all told).
"We just rode the energy of the crowd," said Schultz, "because we never had one this big before. They really helped us, because we knew we had the talent this year. We just had to put it all together."
It left Germantown coach Brian Rushmer, who was there at the beginning of the program when it held just club status, stunned at the accomplishment.
"I've never felt this good in my whole life," he said, ".....A lot of these guys have been around a long time, including years where they just got killed. One year we had Ben (two-time all-state basketball player Averkamp), and we did OK because we just kept setting him, but then we got people Zak and Jake (Showalter) to come out, and then things started to happen.
"I am just so proud of these guys, and I'm hoping that this is just the beginning of a tradition here. I'm not going anywhere, and I think we're here to stay (as a team)."
Nicolet coach Brad Kuehl was not surprised at the result. Rushmer is one of the coaches in Kuehl's off-season club program.
"Brian has done a great job with that program," said Kuehl. "He always gets a lot out of his players."
The Knights, 2008 and 2009 state runner-ups, were going for their fifth straight WIAA tournament berth.
Germantown will now advance to a WIAA state quarterfinal against Rushmer's alma mater Wauwatosa East next Friday at 5 p.m. at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
And as noted, the Warhawks had to earn it.
The Knights, riding the strong arm of senior outside hitter and likely all-stater Dan Mulcahy (school match record 28 kills), had a two games-to-one lead and broke out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth contest.
The advantage was still 16-12 when the Warhawks went on a 4-0 run, highlighted by kills from Schultz and Zak Showalter and a critical block in the middle that tied the score.
Nicolet got the lead back at 18-16 and again at 19-17 before Germantown went ahead 22-20 on a big kill by Fischer. The tension was so great that Steve Showalter, the boys basketball coach and father of both Zak and sophomore setter Jake (56 assists), couldn't look, holding his head in his hands.
Mulcahy then tied the score with a kill and an ace, and then it went back-and-forth until it was tied at 24-all. It looked like Nicolet had gained the critical advantage on a Warhawks hit that went long, but it was ruled a touch at the net, so Germantown got the point.
Zak Showalter then tied the match at two-games all with a tip kill at the far edge of the net.
"We just had to stay with it and get points when we needed them," said Schultz. "We knew that if we'd get one or two that we'd be right back on track."
After Nicolet gained a 2-0 lead in the shortened fifth game, a tense tug-o-war ensued, as there were eight ties and the lead changed hands three times.
A kill by Mulcahy gave Nicolet its last advantage at 11-10, but then the Warhawks went on a 4-0 run to take control. In that run, were two critical blocks of Mulcahy on the outside that eventually led the Warhawks points.
"He is such a load," said the sophomore middle blocker Averkamp, "because he has all the shots. You just have to try and watch his arm angle to see if you can get anything (of the ball)."
After a service error by Germantown made it 14-12, Zak Showalter's kill caused the Warhawk fans to storm the court in excitement. Kuehl didn't appreciate that, as one of his players got accidently knocked over in the melee, which was quickly cleared so awards ceremonies could take place. He said he wished the Warhawk administrators on hand had taken better care of the situation.
Afterwards, Zak Showalter, who has participated in one state basketball tournament and who has come close to two others, said he was happy to be part of this great adventure.
He knows the meaning of an achievement like this.
"I haven't been around volleyball that long, but to go to state in just the fifth year of the program is just amazing," he said. "I'm so looking forward to this."
Kuehl, who said it'll be odd to go to the tournament as just a spectator, was disappointed but proud.
"I am proud," he said. "Our guys did everything right. They (the Warhawks) just made a few more plays than we did. Give credit to them, they got the block up when they really needed it.
"Dan (Mulcahy) played an incredible match. He did everything a senior leader could do and more."
Rushmer also showed pride in his senior leader Schultz.
"For him to get to some of those balls and do what he was able to do was incredible," he said. "Even off of bad passes, he was making something happen."
For Petta, who could be seen clutching the precious sectional championship plaque to his chest long after the ceremonies were done, it was a dream come true.
"I seriously thought our season might be over (in that fourth game)," he said, "but we got it done. Four years and we never quit. We all wanted to go to state so badly. Now I can't wait for Friday to see if we can do it again."
Will there be more magic?
"It took five years to get to this point," said assistant Germantown coach James Feroah, "and we weren't going to let anything stop us. I think this is bigger than all of us (laughs), bigger than anyone can imagine."
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