MIDDLETON — The top-seeded Sun Prairie girls volleyball team had to dig deep Thursday night.

After losing the first and third sets to fourth-seeded Middleton, Sun Prairie’s quest for a return to the state tournament was in peril.

“We were thinking that we couldn’t think too much about losing and we had to play our game,” Sun Prairie senior libero Liz Maastricht said. “We have worked our butts off to put ourselves in this position. We just had to believe in ourselves and know that we could do it.”

Sun Prairie cut its errors and relaxed during a dominant fourth set, setting the tone for a 25-27, 25-23, 24-26, 25-10, 15-8 victory over Middleton in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal match that lasted 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Senior outside hitter Claire Chaussee, the Big Eight Conference Player of the Year, had a match-high 22 kills for Sun Prairie (38-8), which advanced to the sectional final against Waunakee at 7 p.m. Saturday in Baraboo.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the girls,” said Sun Prairie coach T.J. Rantala, whose team reached the state tournament semifinals last year.

“It’s tough to come back when you are down 2-1. We played pretty flawless volleyball in that fourth set. That was key. We just wanted to play volleyball and not think so hard and not try so hard. … We just had to relax and play the game.”

Junior outside hitter Lily Welti and senior outside hitter Jennifer McGinnis led Middleton (27-19) with 19 and 16 kills, respectively. Middleton showed grit, rallying from a 24-20 deficit while winning the first set and a 21-16 deficit while claiming the third set.

“I can’t be any prouder of my kids,” Middleton coach Franco Marcos said. “If you are going to go down, go down swinging. We took the top seed to five (sets). We had our moments when we could have pulled off the upset. It didn’t happen.”

After rolling through the fourth set, Sun Prairie opened a 10-6 lead in the fifth set on senior right-side hitter Bailey Ledford’s kill. Three consecutive kills — the first by senior middle hitter Mariah Calkins and the next two from Chaussee — increased Sun Prairie’s advantage to 13-7.

Senior Kelsie Sonn’s ace ended the match.

Sun Prairie 25 25 24 25 15

Middleton 27 23 26 10 8

Sun Prairie (leaders): Kills — Chaussee 22. Assists — Krekel 30. Service aces — Foster 3, Chaussee 3, Maastricht 3. Digs — Maastricht 20. Blocks — Calkins 3½.

Middleton (leaders): Kills — Welti 19, McGinnis 16. Assists — Underwood 17, Harris 16. Service aces — Underwood, Roberts, McGinnis, Farin 2. Digs — Farin 24. Blocks — Flottmeyer 5.

Waunakee 3, Verona 2

The second-seeded Warriors rallied from a two-set deficit in the second semifinal to edge third-seeded Verona 23-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-6 in a 2-hour match.

Junior outside hitter Kaleigh Roepke had 12 kills and sophomore outside hitter Milla Malik totaled a match-high eight blocks for the Warriors (43-7), seeking their first state tournament appearance since 1993.

“We were right there in the first two sets,” Waunakee coach Anne Denkert said. “We just made a little bit of an adjustment (inserting senior defensive specialist Maggie Check). … We played with more energy and confidence and used problem-solving to figure out what was going on out there (on the court).

“We knew what their strengths were. We were just a little behind in the first two sets.”

Senior middle blocker Kirstin Tidd had 12 kills and five blocks to lead Verona (28-9).

Junior outside hitter Sophie Alexander’s kill closed out the first set for the Wildcats and a kill by Tidd ended the second set, as Verona gained the 2-0 lead.

“We served really impressively in the first set to keep them out of system,” Verona coach Kelly Annen said.

“We were able to keep (Waunakee 6-foot-3 junior Kiana Schmitt) at bay. Our block identified attacking angles on their outsides, and that then set up opportunities for us on offense.”

But the Warriors stormed back, turning the tables by taking Verona out of system. The comeback gave Waunakee and Denkert, who will coach in her fifth sectional final, another shot at a state berth.

Waunakee 23 22 25 25 15

Verona 25 25 21 23 6

Waunakee (leaders): Kills — Roepke 12. Assists – Schwenn 21. Service aces — Miller, Malone 2. Digs — Malone 23. Blocks — Malik 8.

Verona (leaders): Kills — Tidd 12. Assists — Frahm 32. Service aces — Armstrong 2. Digs — Karnosky 27. Blocks — Kidd 5.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.