GREEN BAY, Wis. (WSAW) -- It was a season for the ages for the Stratford Tigers that ended in a game for the ages, but not in the way they wanted.
The Tigers came up just short in a thrilling Division 3 state championship game on Saturday, losing 3-2 against now two-time defending champion Lake Country Lutheran.
"I just can't be more proud of this group of girls sitting here next to me and in front of me," Stratford head coach Brooke Kafka said. "It's been one heck of a ride for them the last few years and really can't hang our heads about anything today."
Stratford entered the day a perfect 44-0 on the year.
They won the first set of the match 25-23, but the Lightning chipped away at the lead at the end of the set, then turned the tide of the match by winning the next two sets handily.
"We were trying so hard out there no matter what we did it just seemed to not click and not go down," outside hitter Maize Nagel said. "It was hard seeing the holes. As much energy, we put everything out there but it just seemed like nothing was working for us."
Stratford came back to win set four 25-21, a true sign of resilience for a team that hadn't faced much adversity throughout the season.
"For them to come together in that moment, and no one feel less than what they're worth, and really that mental game, we could've went out and flopped game four, and we came back you know stronger than ever," Kafka said.
A 15-7 set five win gave Lake Country Lutheran their second consecutive Division 3 title. Despite the disappointment of the loss, perspective of everything they accomplished was not lost on the team postgame.
"I know we're very disappointed we didn't come home with a gold ball because that was our goal," setter Brooke Peterson said. "But we made school history today, and we're coming home with silver ball."
"Coming here from freshman year, the program really had like an even record, so we came in here and us seniors really turned it around. We pushed our record and we pushed it until we were undefeated and we got here," Nagel added.
A perfect season and a state championship were not meant to be for the Tigers, but 44-1, a silver ball, and reaching a peak never before seen in program history, certainly gives the team and the town of Stratford plenty to be proud of.