There was no way Nicolet girls volleyball coach Dann Jacobson was going to be caught flat-footed in the North Shore Conference championship dual with Cedarburg on Oct. 15 on the Knights' senior night.
"I have total respect for them," he said of the Bulldogs, "so I started preparing for them a month ago. I scouted them at a tournament. I sent out my JV coach to a match two weeks ago and we got info from the Westosha Tourney just this past Saturday."
Then for good measure, he took a piece of paper out of his pocket and showed a densely packed two-sided scouting report on the Bulldogs.
Ready for title
In short, he was ready and so were the Knights, as they claimed their fourth league title since 2008 with a surprisingly easy 25-14, 25-17, 25-23 decision over the Bulldogs.
"We just put so much time and effort into this," Jacobson said.
That they did as the title is the sixth overall for the program and include crowns from 1981 (Braveland), 2002, 2008, 2009 and 2011 (all North Shore).
The Knights celebrated loudly and excitedly, and for a good reason. Due to a series of convoluted rules the North Shore used to have for determining a volleyball champ in the past, a dual meet winner could lose out completely on a title in the league tourney that followed.
Such was the case a few years ago when Nicolet lost out on a crown when Germantown took advantage of a loop-hole in the rules at the tourney. But those rules were changed just recently and now that can't happen.
"Now what you see here tonight, this dual was the conference championship," said Jacobson. "There's no worrying about someone getting hurt, or someone gaming the system. We'll have a nice high-level tournament on Saturday (back at Nicolet) and there'll be a traveling trophy, but it'll be just a tournament (and not a league championship)."
Nicolet left no doubt in the tournament, taking that traveling trophy home with two-game sweeps of Port Washington (25-4, 25-21), Whitefish Bay (25-7, 25-9) and Homestead (25-15, 28-26) in pool play and then Cedarburg again in the semifinals (25-13, 25-18) and Germantown (25-22, 25-23) in the finals.
"Before the season started most people saw us as a 4-3 or 5-2 team in the conference," said Jacobson. "For us to finish 7-0 and 5-0 in the tournament is very gratifying. This team has been dedicated and hard working every day, has great chemistry, and continues to have fun."
The Knights look to keep things going in WIAA tournament action. They earned the second seed in the WIAA Division 1 Whitefish Bay sectional behind third-ranked in state DSHA. They earned a first-round bye and will host the winner of Wauwatosa East and Milwaukee Riverside in a regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Sectional semifinals will be at Brookfield Central on Oct. 31 and the sectional final at Bay will be Nov. 2.
That might all be frosting on the cake for the Knights as the conference dual meet win was especially meaningful to the three seniors, middle blockers Natalie Muenster and Arianna Cohen (three blocks) and all-world outside hitter Angie Morello. Morello is completing her fourth year on varsity with a league championship fueled by her emphatic 15 kills.
"People have been on us all season so it was great to come out on top like this," Morello said. "It's awesome."
Senior leads team
Her teammates and coaches could not say enough about the leadership that Morello has shown this season. She is the last of three powerful all-state volleyball playing sisters (Rachel and Melissa included) who have graced Nicolet courts for the last several years.
"Oh my gosh," said junior setter Alanna Conley. "Angie's here every night playing her heart out. It's an honor to play with her."
"She just wants it so badly," said Cohen. "No one works harder than her."
Jacobson got so caught up thinking about Angie Morello and how her time is quickly closing at Nicolet that he had to take a moment to compose himself.
"Her greatness you see on the court," said Jacobson. "You hear the kids in the stands yelling 'MVP, MVP!' but you also see her greatness on the practice court, too. There are very few kids or people for that matter as humble as she is.
"She just has so much skill, and heart and class."
Teammates step up, too
Those traits rubbed off on the Knights this evening.
They were not seriously threatened in either of the first two games by Cedarburg, which like the Knights, entered the match 6-0 in North Shore duals. The Bulldogs appeared nervous as they fell behind 9-4 in the first game and 7-1 in the second, never to recover.
Cedarburg finally woke up in the middle of the third game, erasing an 11-6 deficit to take a 20-16 lead.
But behind Morello, the Knights rallied to keep the sweep intact. They tied the score at 21-all and then again at 23-all. An ace by Morello and a kill by Erin Heidenrich closed out the match and started the celebration.
"I think it was unique, us being so young," said Conley, who had 30 assists on the night. "We kept working in the younger players and that helped us build our confidence and skill as the season went along.
"And our schedule just helped us get better prepared than anything we ever could have thought possible. It prepared us for anything we would ever see in a match."
Prepared to win the big one.
"It's amazing, this is all I ever wanted to do since freshman year," said Cohen of the league crown. "I just wanted to get out here and get it done."
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