The novelty had worn off for the Germantown boys volleyball team, which made a splash by winning the North Shore Conference title and surprisingly advancing all the way to the WIAA State semifinals last year.
But the excitement is still there, as the Warhawks, fueled by expectations both internal and external, cruised to their second straight North Shore title Wednesday, with a surprisingly easy 25-16, 25-14, 25-15 rout of rival Nicolet.
With the win, the tall and on occasion dominant Warhawks finished the season at 6-0 in league duals and are ready for the upcoming WIAA series where they have earned the top seed in the Arrowhead sectional bracket.
"It's more of a younger team this year," said 6-11 senior outside hitter Luke Fischer, one of the veterans of last year's run whose frequent thunderous spikes energized the home crowd in the Germantown gym Wednesday night, "but we get along well. The thing for us though, is that Coach (Brian) Rushmer expects us to do well. To build on last year."
"And we don't expect anything less ourselves."
That much is true. The Warhawks lost a great deal off that great team of a year ago but their level of achievement hasn't fallen off.
"There's been a lot more pressure on them this year," said Rushmer. "Even the other teams are expecting us to be a lot better even with all those people gone. The expectations are much higher because do have those three big returnees back."
"We've got the first goal (conference), and now we'll see what happens."
The Warhawks, who have spent most of the season ranked in the state's top 10, will get a first-round WIAA tournament bye, and Rushmer has scheduled a four-team scrimmage on the day of that bye (Friday, Oct. 26) in order for the team to stay sharp. They will then host a sectional semifinal on Tuesday, Oct. 30, with sectional finals slated for Thursday, Nov. 1 at Arrowhead.
The "three big returnees" are all big indeed. All are veterans of the state championship boys basketball team of last season, but all have also elevated their volleyball experience as well.
Fischer, who will attend Indiana next fall on a basketball scholarship, has been a classic finisher, the "go-to" guy when the Warhawks are in trouble.
Jon Averkamp, a 6-6 junior middle hitter, played club volleyball all summer and sharpened his all-around game considerably. He leads the team in digs this fall.
And 6-2 junior Jake Showalter has had to make a big adjustment. He was the team's setter last year, but with the Warhawks' top two outside hitters (Matt Schultz and Tom Andrus) now graduated, he shifted to that spot to help take up some of the offensive slack.
"Luke can be just over the top sometimes," said Rushmer. "Ideally, we run our offense through Jon (Averkamp) with help from Jake, but Luke just changes the pace of the game all the time. His block is an amazing thing and when he chooses to really jump, his head is completely over the top of the net."
Rushmer has also been pleased with the development of other players, such as new setter junior Jacob Reynolds and feisty sophomore libero Cullen Liberski, who at 5-3 provides a stark contrast to Fischer for this tall, but diverse team.
"With our height, we can provide some real match-up problems for other teams," said Averkamp. "We've been working hard trying to prove ourselves this fall."
They all but did that in a spectacular way a few seeks ago, when they almost took out defending state champion Marquette in the final of the Middleton Tournament. The Warhawks, who had lost to the Hilltoppers in a competitive four games last fall in the WIAA state semifinals, lost two two-point games to Marquette in that Middleton final.
"We were a little upset that we weren't able to beat them," said Showalter. "We'd really like to show who's the better team. Get back to state and do even better this time, because we now know that we can compete with the best."
"So far this feels great. We're having a lot of fun out there."
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