They were just callow freshmen when the last time their beloved Menomonee Falls girls volleyball team last made the WIAA state tournament two years ago.
And in a reminder of that fact, coach J.C. Bruns had them and the team watch a disc of the epic WIAA sectional final match with Germantown that got the 2010 team to state.
So, when now juniors Simone Lee, Abby Becker and Katherine Von Bank stepped upon the court Saturday night in Waukesha for their own sectional final with long-time WIAA rival Watertown, they were ready to lead.
And lead they did, helping the Indians take the first game decisively, 25-17, and then making enough plays at the end of games two (25-23) and three (26-24) to earn a sweep over the Goslings and a berth in next week's WIAA State Tournament in Green Bay.
"We put the team on our shoulders," said the setter/rightside hitter Beckers, who missed most of last season with an injury. "Try to guide them to state. ...I just thought I could be more useful tothe team out here than just sitting on the bench (laughs)."
It's Falls' ninth state trip since 1984 and sixth since 2003.
The trio's leadership has paid off in other ways too, as the team seemed to unify behind them. Rare was the Gosling point that was the result of an overt Falls' mistake. Unless it was a decisive kill, the ball just did not hit the floor on the Indian side this night.
"We're very cohesive at this point," said the Penn State recruit and outside hitter Lee. "We're taught to go for every ball, that every hit has to be recovered. If we have a chance to get the ball, we will. When we apply ourselves, the ball is going back nine times out of 10."
And that attitude could carry them far. The fifth-ranked in state Falls squad will challenge unranked Sun Prairie in a 7:30 p.m. Thursday WIAA state quarterfinal at the Resch Center in Green Bay. If the Indians win, they will likely face top-ranked in state Burlington in Friday's semifinals.
Veteran coach J.C. Bruns is confident right now and it's a confidence borne of the frustration of a hard mid-season week.
In that time, the Indians lost out on a chance for a Greater Metro Conference title to archrival and second-ranked in state DSHA in an epic five-game dual and then didn't have a very good second day in the talent-strewn West Bend Sprawl.
"We were a little lost after that," said Bruns, "but we found our way. We've been 13-1 (in matches) since then, including a win over DS in a rematch, a win against (10th-ranked) Germantown and a win here over (eighth-ranked) Watertown."
And behind the three juniors, they did it as a team.
The Indians led the first game pretty much from start to finish, but the next two games were anything but that easy.
Behind their own all-state candidate in 6-4 middle hitter Katie Standick, the Goslings hung tough. There were a remarkable 15 ties in the second game. Falls seemingly had the game in hand at 24-21, but after a Watertown time-out, the Goslings ran off three points in a row for the final tie.
Two of those points came on decisive blocks of kill attempts by the 6-1 Lee.
"They rotated their block to try and take Simone out of it so we had to do something different," said Bruns. "We just had to battle and battle."
After a time-out, Falls went ahead for good on another Lee kill, but this one after a long rally, and with her in a different position.
Then senior outside hitter Carly Poth tossed in a dying quail of a serve that the Watertown receive could not get back up for game point.
In game three, the Goslings went up 3-0, but Falls rallied back several times to keep it close.
Falls had a 22-20 lead, but then the Goslings scored three straight, including the final two by Standick to go up 23-22.
But after a Falls' timeout, the Indians made their final rally, as Von Bank, who quietly made several key plays over the course of the night, tied it up with a kill of her own, and then put Falls ahead for good with an ace.
And when the Goslings struggled on a return and made an error, the Indians had the match and a trip to Green Bay in their pocket.
Afterwards, the talk was again all about the defense.
"Since we've sorted out our serve recieve, we've become so much better," said Becker.
Which subsequently leads to some intense offense.
"Our passing has been so great," said Lee, "and when we're in system (all three facets, bump, set and hit), there's no team that can stop us."
Bruns liked the strong survival mode attitude that the team adopted in the final two games.
"I told them after the first game, that not everything was going to be pretty," he said. "That good teams win those tough games."
"We just need to step on teams' throats when the time comes," said Becker.
And then Bruns talked about the defense too.
"During the course of the season, we settled in as having Simone (Lee), Maddie (Micech) and Katherine (Von Bank) as pur primary receivers," he said, "and then we have a team where everybody can dig balls out. And when we're doing that consistently, it makes it so much easier on our side and so much harder on theirs."
And as a result, some big goals are in reach.
"We think we can win a state title," said Lee. "When our pass is there, we're unstoppable."
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