Sometimes, the simplest solution can be the most effective.
That certainly was the case for the Wauwatosa East boys’ volleyball team in their thrilling five-game sectional semifinal win over rival Wauwatosa West on Tuesday at Tosa East.
The top-seeded Red Raiders did everything they could to set hitter Ben Plaisted up all over the court and the junior delivered, especially when it mattered most.
Plaisted finished with 36 kills, but tallied 11 of them in East’s 18-16 game five win.
“They couldn’t stop him,” said East coach John Simon. “We were sending him everywhere. He was hitting cuts and hitting angle shots and line shots.”
Perhaps Plaisted’s biggest shot came when East was down 13-11 and in jeopardy of seeing their run of consecutive WIAA State Tournament appearances end at six.
He buried a ball cross court and East (21-5) went on to win the next three points to take a 14-13 lead.
“Every time the ball came to me, I just tried to swing as hard as I could,” Plaisted said. “I knew I was going to have to step up and I felt good out there.”
The fourth-seeded Trojans rallied three times to tie the score, including an open court kill by senior Matt Stolz, who finished with a team-high 23 kills, to make it 16-16.
But another put away by Plaisted, followed by a futile scramble by the Trojans to keep the ensuring rally alive, secured the win for East.
“We knew they had big hitters, but I thought we played awesome and just came up a couple of points short,” Stolz said. “Plaisted just hit around us. It is what it is.”
Initially, the Red Raiders were getting production from their entire front line as the team jumped out to a 10-2 lead in game one.
Senior outside hitter Ben Mihelich paced East in their 25-17 opening game win with six kills, but West stabilized their blocking and took game two, 25-21.
That’s when Simon employed the simple strategy of getting the ball to Plaisted whenever possible.
“I told my setter after game two that every ball we can should go to Ben because they haven’t stopped him yet,” Simon said. “When they start stopping him, we’ll try something different.”
Plaisted finished off a 25-18 game three win for the Red Raiders with a thunderous kill, but the Trojans refused to disappear.
The two teams traded leads four times in game four, with neither squad going ahead by more than three points.
West (12-8) took the lead for good at 17-16 on a Stolz block and the senior finished the 25-22 win with a put away that forced game five.
“It was a battle and both teams came ready to play,” Tosa West coach Kyle Sikora said. “But they made adjustments and ran Plaisted across the whole back row, across the whole front row and we couldn’t stop him.”
While Plaisted proved to be a dominant presence, Simon acknowledged that the match could have gone either way.
“Whenever it’s East and West, it’s a battle royal,” he said. “It doesn’t matter records and that’s how this one was. So many points could have gone either way.”
The Red Raiders will now travel to Brookfield Central for the WIAA Sectional final to face the Lancers. East is the third-rated team in state and Central is the fourth-rated team.
The Red Raiders were undefeated in the Greater Metro Conference and Brookfield Central lost one game — to the Red Raiders.
In the Oct. 30th game at Tosa East, the Red Raiders won 3-1. Central won the first game (25-16), but then the Red Raiders regrouped and battled to win the final three games (25-22, 25-23, 25-19) and take the match.
On another angle, former Tosa East assistant to Simon is Brookfield Central coach Ken Nash.
The mentor will face the student with a trip to state on the line.