The little things, an off-line dig here, a less-than-great set there and a kill attempt that was out by inches over on the far side of the court.
That's all that separated the Germantown boys volleyball team from a potentially stirring upset of number-one ranked in the state and unbeaten Appleton North in a WIAA State Tournament quarterfinal match Friday night at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
Instead, the Warhawks (23-9 record), who had leads late in each of the first two sets, eventually lost a 27-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-17 decision to the Lightning (32-0).
North advanced to a noon semifinal on Saturday against defending state champion Marquette, which outlasted Muskego in another quarterfinal.
"A couple of little errors, that's all it was," said a disappointed Warhawk coach Brian Rushmer. "We didn't have our feet set on defense in one situation or we put a ball into the net in another. It's the little things that put you over the top."
Still, senior outside hitter Luke Fischer, who earlier this week became the first Germantown player to earn first-team WVCA All-State honors, was proud of the effort.
That was because the Warhawks, who were making their second straight trip to state, played at a much higher level against the diverse, talented and sophisticated Lightning than they did in their sectional matches last week.
'We played so well until those last few points (of those first two games)," Fischer said. "I really can't be any happier with our effort except for the losing part. We have improved so much from earlier this season, and all through the playoffs."
"We really have come a long ways."
And if the Warhawks were intimidated by North, which they lost to earlier this fall in the Homestead Invitational in two close games when the 6-11 Fischer was unavailable due to a college visit, they didn't act like it.
They had the lead five times in the first game, including at 24-23, when they made a spiriited 4-0 run after trailing 24-23. They had the lead again at 25-24, but then the Lightning scored the last three points to take the game.
In the second game, the Warhawks fell behind 3-0, but then held a small advantage throughout the see-saw affair. They had 18-15 and 19-16 leads but then the Lightning went on a 9-3 run to close out the game.
Rushmer knew that his team had missed an opportunity, because the Lightning often played suffocating defense, rarely letting a free ball drop.
"It was very intensity volleyball," he said, "but sometimes it seemed like they had an extra guy out there. They always seemed to pick up the ball."
The Lightning offense was balanced too, as they had four players with six or more kills, led by senior outside hitter Drew Eastman with 15. Rushmer noted that three of North's top attackers were left-handed, which made it difficult to set up a block.
"That's a huge advantage," he said. "It takes a little bit of luck, skill and talent to get as far as they have and they have all three."
The Warhawks did not roll over, closing out the third set with a 9-4 rush to pull out a win and close the deficit to two sets to one. That was only the fifth set the Lightning have dropped this season in 32 matches.
Germantown started off hopeful in the fourth game, getting off to a quick 3-1 lead, but the Lightning scored 12 of the next 17 points to take control at 13-8. The tired Warhawks could never get within three after that point.
Fischer, who finished his high school volleyball career with a match-high 20 kills along with five assisted blocks, one solo block and four digs, said the team was surprised at exactly how good the Lightning actually were.
"We looked at a lot of film and we didn't think that they'd be that good at passing or digging," he said, "but they were." The Lightning were particularly effective at running, short quick sets out of the middle before the Warhawks could set up their block.
Fischer got help from Jon Averkamp with 12 kills and seven digs, while Jake Showalter had nine kills and seven digs. Troy Thompsen had seven assisted blocks and Jacob Reynolds 39 assists.
"We had a good idea of how they ran their offense, and based on the first match (without Fischer), we had every bit of a right to be as confident as we were heading into this match," said Rushmer. "We know we can play with anybody in the state when we're right."
"Last year was our coming out party (when the Warhawks made state semifinals) and what we did this year just reaffirmed it."
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