Two area volleyball teams will tangle with a pair of state powers when the WIAA sectional semifinals take place Thursday night.
Fourth-seeded Janesville Craig will take on top-seeded Burlington at 5 p.m. at Stoughton High School. That match will be followed by second-seeded Milton taking on third-seeded Westosha Central. The winners play Saturday at Elkhorn with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
Burlington and Westosha, Southern Lakes Conference rivals, know plenty about qualifying for state. One or the other has been to every state tournament since 2000, except for in 2008.
Milton is attempting to qualify for state for the first time, while Janesville Craig is seeking a second state trip and first in 36 years.
“I think we’ll be able to play loose, because we’re the underdogs. We can just go play,” Craig coach Blake Budrow said. “Have fun, try to have some crisp passes and run our offense.”
Janesville Craig seems to be playing loose and its best at the right time of the year. Though the Cougars needed five sets to get through the regional finals Saturday, they are still carrying momentum from beating state-ranked Sun Prairie for the Big Eight Conference Tournament title.
“I just think they really believe in each other and themselves,” Budrow said. “We were having a really good year, but the match against (Madison) Memorial when we came back from down 24-16 in Game 3 and came all the way back to win the match, they realized anything is possible.”
To reach the sectional final in Elkhorn, Craig will need to get past a Burlington team that has qualified for state in six of the past seven seasons. The program won back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012 and was the Division 1 state runner-up a year ago.
Burlington finished third in the Southern Lakes, losing to Westosha and unbeaten Waterford to finish 5-2. But, similar to Craig, the Demons avenged those regular-season losses by defeating Waterford to win the SLC Tournament.
Milton is 10-2 in its 12 matches since mid-September, with its only losses coming to Badger South champion Watertown. The Red Hawks swept Beloit Memorial and Lake Geneva to earn a regional title.
They’ll face a Westosha team that was state runner-up in 2013 and made state appearances every year from 2000-2007.
“I know Milton is playing good volleyball,” Budrow said. “It’s usually Burlington and Westosha, so it’s nice to see us and Milton over there in the final four, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Delavan-Darien, Evansville, Elkhorn in boys soccer sectionals
Delavan-Darien and Elkhorn are now two victories away from returning to the WIAA state boys soccer tournament for the second year in a row. Evansville needs two more wins to go for the first time in program history.
Delavan-Darien, seeking its second straight Division 3 state title—and third in four years—once again faces the toughest sectional in the state.
The Comets, ranked No. 1 all year in the state coaches poll, play No. 5-ranked and fourth-seeded Shorewood at 6 p.m. Thursday at Lake Geneva Badger. No. 2-ranked and second-seeded Pius XI hosts fourth-ranked Catholic Memorial in other other sectional semifinal, with the winners meeting Saturday night at Shorewood.
As in recent years, whichever team is able to run the gauntlet will be the favorite at the state meet next week at Uihlein Park in Milwaukee.
The Comets boast the two leading scorers in the state, according to statistics reported to WisSports.net. Junior Zeus Huerta has scored a state-leading 50 goals and 122 points. Senior Jason Cano is second with 48 and 121.
The winner from the Shorewood Sectional will face the champion from the McFarland Sectional in the state semifinals next week. Included in that group is Evansville, seeded third and facing second-seeded McFarland in the sectional semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday at Madison College.
The match is a rematch of the Rock Valley Conference Tournament title match. McFarland won 2-1 at Evansville to claim the league title.
The teams also fought to a 3-3 draw during their regular-season conference match.
The Blue Devils, led by senior Kevin Garcia (27 goals, 11 assists), freshman Jackson Stencel (21 and 19) and senior Peytown Townsend (17 and 8) are seeking their first victory over the Spartans since 2012.
In Division 2, fifth-ranked and top-seeded Elkhorn hopes to keep its impressive streak rolling in a sectional semifinal and visiting and fourth-seeded Sauk Prairie.
The Elks were 3-1-4 through their first eight matches but have won 13 straight since then, including beating Delavan-Darien for the Southern Lakes Conference title.
Elkhorn has allowed just three goals in those 13 matches and just 13 total all year.
The winner will face second-seeded Oregon or third-seeded Monona Grove in a sectional final at 4 p.m. Saturday in Wilmot.