Many boys volleyball teams would look at Marquette's imposing 41-3 match record and top rating in the state and perhaps be at least a bit intimidated.
Catholic Memorial is not one of them.
The Crusaders came into their WIAA state championship meeting with the Hilltoppers at Wisconsin Lutheran College on Nov. 12 knowing that they had handed Marquette two of its three defeats this season.
The confidence that came with that experience paid big dividends, especially after they fell behind two sets to none. Instead of panicking, they coolly worked their way back into the match and eventually pulled out a thrilling 17-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-10 victory to claim their third state crown and first since 2010.
"(The earlier matches) helped us a ton," Memorial co-coach Dan Chipman said. "If we had just played that first match (early in the season), where they swept us, 3-0, when we were down 2-0 (in the state title match), we would have been like, 'oh, they've got us.' Having beaten them twice, we were 4-1 in those matches, so we were 4-4 on the year, and we're even with this team.
"(I told the players) it might not be showing on the scoreboard (when Memorial was down 2-0), but we know it's going to be even if we keep playing long enough. It's trying to keep the games going long enough and the match long enough so you still have a chance to get back in it."
Senior outside hitter Ryan Brown, who finished with 14 kills and eight digs, said the comeback was a team effort.
"This is a team," Brown said. "You look each guy in the eye, and they don't give up, so you don't give up. That's the mentality we've had all year. You keep fighting, even if we're down. There's no quit, there's no giving up, you fight the whole way. When you go down two in the biggest match of your life, you don't quit. You go after every point as hard as you can."
The Catholic Memorial boys volleyball team sealed up a five-set victory over Marquette in the state championship game, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to secure its third gold ball. Video by John Rech.
Marquette led for most of the first set and coasted to a 25-17 victory behind some strong net play.
The Crusaders jumped out on top 7-3 in the second set, only to see Marquette respond with a 7-3 run of its own to tie things at 10-10. Later, Memorial was up, 19-18, but the Hilltoppers scored the next three points, then went on to win 25-21 on a service ace.
Chipman and fellow coach Brad Mikulice had an uplifting message for the squad after the second game.
"We just said, 'Guys, you just have to play your hardest at all times,'" he said. "'Sometimes, you will lose a match because the ball is not bouncing your way. You can play your best, but (the shots) are just a little long, the blocks are not going in. All we want to do is go out there and know that we're ready to play our best, no matter what. Even though we're down two, we're playing great.'
"This is the kind of match we've been preparing you for all year. If you're going to lose, lose gloriously. Play hard, make some great plays, don't get rattled. I think we really did that."
The third set was close all the way, but with Memorial nursing a 21-20 lead, senior middle hitter Zach Engsberg connected on a pair of kills to help the Crusaders go up, 24-21. Marquette came within 24-23 on a pair of kills, then Brown put down the winner.
"It was the team work ethic, and the fact that we pushed so hard and worked as a team," said Engsberg, who collected 17 kills and three blocks for the match. "We all worked together and fought back."
Marquette tried to take control of the fourth set, going up 12-7, but the Crusaders came back with a 5-0 run to tie it at 12-12. The set was then tied 10 more times, the last at 23-all, before Brown and sophomore middle Ben Serb finished with kills to win it at 25-23.Memorial jumped on top 4-1 in the fifth set, but Marquette came back to tie it at 5-5. The Hilltoppers later took a 10-9 advantage before the Crusaders tallied the final six points of the set.
Engsberg had a kill in that run, and junior outside hitter Dom Coello finished it with a kill on match point.
Senior Joe Heyrman collected 10 kills, senior setter Ben Peschl 46 assists and nine digs and senior libero Josh Gableman 10 digs for the Crusaders (25-9).
"There's nothing better," Engsberg said. "You can't feel any better than winning a state championship against a team that is so good and so talented as Marquette is. It was a great game, and I'm so glad that we won."