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The Greendale girls volleyball team will return to the state tournament with a 16-17 record, but the Panthers are not a team to be taken lightly.

One year after a senior-dominated squad made the program’s first trip to state since 1979, the encore featured a younger team finding its footing in new positions and playing a loaded tournament schedule. Following a 26-24, 25-22, 25-22 win over top-seeded West Allis Hale in the sectional final, Greendale will meet Menomonee Falls in the 4:30 p.m. state quarterfinal Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Resch Center in Green Bay with a chance to advance one step farther than its 2015 predecessor.

“We had a rough start to our year; we graduated six seniors and lost a couple other players, so we've been kind of rebuilding this year,” Greendale coach Katie Matel said. “They really caught on fire these last couple games. Once the playoffs started, they kind of kicked it into a different gear because they realized if we lose, the season's done. We kind of turned it on and started playing like I haven't seen them play all year. We're impressed and proud. Last year, there was a lot of pressure because we had six seniors and so many great players that had played together for those four years. This year, there’s less pressure because we have a newer team. That might work in our favor.”

Hale had defeated Greendale at the Menomonee Falls Invite on Oct. 1 in two sets, 25-23, 25-23, but the Panthers maintained control most of the rematch.

“We started off the match pretty well, up by a decent amount, and West Allis started to creep back, but our defense really showed through in the first (set),” Matel said. “We had a couple errant passes and hustled to get the ball over the net. Defense really gets the crowd fired up and gets the girls fired up when you're laying out for balls and giving everything you've got. It was just the attitude we kind of set in that first set.”

Hale and sectional semifinalist Racine Case don’t have Greendale’s recent experience in the sectional, something Matel felt played to the Panthers’ advantage.

“I also think our schedule throughout the year helped, too,” she said. “We had one of the toughest tournament schedules in the state. We’re used to playing tight matches with good teams. We play the Joust, the Sprawl, the Muskego Tournament, all those big ones throughout the year. We’re used to playing good teams and not having huge leads.”

Kayce Litzau finished with 10 kills and matched her sister, Danielle Litzau, with 17 assists apiece. Jess Grabowski posted 11 digs, and Annie Pulizos stepped up with six blocks. Greendale has seen Falls twice this year, falling both times.

Against Case in the Oct. 27 semifinal, the reintroduction of sophomore Nicole Martin to the lineup helped the cause. Martin, who’s been nursing an injury, helped catalyze a 19-25, 25-21, 25-19, 26-24 victory that advanced the second-seeded Panthers to Saturday.

“She was cleared to play the Wednesday before,” Matel said. “We were trying to save her because her shoulder has been bothering her, and she hadn’t really practiced in a while. She played middle for us last year, and we moved her to the outside. That’s part of the reason the team got off to a slow start as she was adjusting to a new position and we had a new middle step in. She got the rhythm of being an outside right before she got hurt.”

Against Case, Greendale scored the final six points of the fourth set to avoid going to a fifth set with the 26-24 win.

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