JEWELL - The target was already on the Janesville Wildcats jersey's before they even took the floor in Class 1A volleyball regional final action Tuesday night.
With the game on a neutral court, the Newell-Fonda Mustangs felt more at ease, especially since taking their 14-21 record to the big dance, with a victory over 12th ranked Bishop-Garrigan.
But the Mustangs missed the target as the Wildcats swept them 25-9, 25-11, 25-14 and punched their ticket to state and the opportunity to play for their third title in a row.
"We came into this game with a lot of confidence," junior hitter Bree Thompson said. "We didn't think about their record because they wouldn't be here if they were not good. They beat some good teams to get here and you can not over look anyone at this point."
The Mustangs battled the Wildcats early, as the opening set went back-and-forth before Thompson drilled a monster slam to the floor giving the Wildcats a 7-5 lead. It would never get any closer as they continued to pound the Mustangs into a 25-9 final.
"When you get a team down like that you have to just keep it going," Thompson said. "We just shook off the start and began to play our game."
The Wildcats did not let up through the second set as junior setter, Alisa Bengen began to frustrate the Mustangs at the net with her timely taps over for easy points. With the game still in reach, the Mustangs got a kill from Morgan Lynch to close the gap to 5-4, but Bengen answered back by placing a nice ball into an empty space.
"It is fun to get those points, but you have to rely on the coaches and your teammates in order for it to work," Bengen said. "Sometimes they spot the openings and let me know and when you can get it over early for quick points and catch them off guard, it really opens things up. They don't know what's coming at that point and we were passing and serving well all night it just fell together.
"It was awesome playing in this environment with so many people in the gym, it was kind of like being at state."
State is exactly where the Wildcats are headed next week and senior Kennedy Meister will be anticipating her run at a third title.
"We know there is a target on our backs, but we like it that way," Meister said. "We work together so well and the chemistry on this team is unbelievable. We went right after them tonight and did not want them to gain any momentum. Playing on this team is so easy to get in a comfortable mindset and once we took a deep breath and settled in and played relaxed, we knew we could win."
The Wildcats never really seemed to be out of their comfort zone, which is very pleasing for head coach Shelly Sorensen.
"When you get to tournament play you really have to worry about everyone," Sorensen said. "A team like this especially because they were playing their best ball up to now. They took us out of our game a little early, maybe because of our jitters, but the girls settled down and and got back to playing our game.
"We are a very good offense, but it is the passing and defense that keeps us going. Tonight we were solid on defense and sometimes they don't get the recognition like the big hitters. We just need to keep making those improvements all the time and play our way."