In the end, the Germantown boys volleyball team found its identity Thursday night in the WIAA sectional final against host Arrowhead.
The top seeds were down 6-3 in the fourth game of their WIAA sectional final and were already down two games to one, facing elimination if they could not rally and force a fifth game.
Germantown looked lethargic and cranky from a couple of calls that went against them, and a second straight WIAA state tournament berth was seriously in doubt.
So what did coach Brian Rushmer tell his team?
"Baiscally, what I said was, 'It's our season or nothing right now. Are we a volleyball team or a bunch of basketball players playing at it?'," he said.
"We decided we were a volleyball team."
And they did that in impressive fashion, rallying to take the fourth game and then the fifth as Germantown earned its second straight WIAA state tournament berth with a 25-21, 21-25, 21-25, 25-15, 15-7 decision.
"We had some communication problems (in the second and third games)," said senior outside hitter Luke Fischer, the only senior in the line-up. "After we had won that first one, we thought we had it easy, but we had to respond when we were pushed.
"We just all had to pull together. We came together as a team and played our butts off."
With the victory, the Warhawks will join a talent-laden field at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Wauwatosa on Nov. 9 and 10 for the state tournament. It will include top-ranked Appleton North, Catholic Memorial, Kettle Moraine, Muskego, Burlington, defending champion Marquette and Wauwatosa East.
All eight teams were the top seeds in their particular sectional brackets.
And the Warhawks were among those who had the hardest road to state.
It didn't start getting easier until midway through the fourth game. Germantown was still down 10-7 when it went on a 12-2 run that put it in control at 19-12.
Fischer, who admittedly had an up-and-down day, came up big with a streak of hits during that outburst, including two outstanding crosscourt kills to the far corner.
He finished off game four with a shot down the right side.
"We just started moving our feet," said Rushmer. "We backed up our hitters and then got the ball back up (on longer rallies). And that helped, because we know how demoralizing it can be when you think you have a kill and the ball comes back."
Arrowhead had gotten the best of sloppy play by both teams in the first three games. Senior middle blocker Kevin LeRoy and junior outside hitter Eric Tarnow were particularly difficult to deal with.
Germantown was dangerously close to being swept in this match, as Arrowhead had taken a 14-8 lead in the first game before Germantown rallied, and AHS found it hard to get momentum back.
Germantown scored the first two points of the fifth and final game race to 15 and never trailed. Arrowhead closed the gap to 6-5 with the help of a fine long kill from Tarnow, but Germantown scored the next five points, including two impressive blocks by junior outside hitter Troy Thompsen and two key kills by junior outside hitter/setter Jake Showalter.
"We'd been in those tough positions before," said Showalter. "We've faced adversity and then come alive."
"In the race to 15, we try to break it down into mini-games," said Rushmer. "We try to be the first to five, then the first to 10 and then ultimately the first to 15."
Arrowhead coach Shane Reid was disappointed in the loss, but felt that his team was part of something special.
"They just beat us, what can you say?" he said. "They just played great in games four and five. Two great teams were going at it. It was awesome. It's a game of momentum. They got it and rode it. Maybe if we had been able to pull out that first one, it would have been different.
"I was proud as heck of my guys. It was a great game and a great match and it was a great thing to be a part of."
Especially in the eyes of the still-young Germantown program, which was seeking validation for the WIAA state semifinal run it made last season.
"Going to state had been the goal since the beginning of the season," said Fischer. "Coach made us believe that we had the ability to do it."
"It feels just as good as it did last year," said Showalter. "Though we were missing some guys from last year (who had graduated), we got it done."
And certified the faith of their coach.
"It was really a team effort," said Rushmer. "Everytime somebody broke down, somebody else came to pick him up. We made sure we had a short-term memory.
"I know I have said this before, but this just shows that our program is here to stay. For a young team like ours to be successful, to say we're going to state, is just amazing."
Fischer finished with 21 kills for Germantown, and Jacob Reynolds handed out 43 assists. Tarnow posted 15 kills and Chad St. Martin finished with 19 digs for Arrowhead.
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