Marshfield senior hitter Stephanie Rhodes returns for the Tigers after earning all-Wisconsin Valley Conference honors in 2015. (Photo by Paul Lecker/MarshfieldAreaSports.com)
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By Paul Lecker
Spencer is looking for its fifth-straight Cloverbelt Conference championship, Marshfield could be in contention to grab its first Wisconsin Valley Conference title in a decade, and Marshfield Columbus Catholic, Auburndale and Stratford want to see continued improvement in the upcoming high school volleyball season, which kicked off earlier this week.
Here is a look at the outlook for the five area volleyball teams as the conference schedules begin this week.
With six returning seniors, including three how earned all-conference honors last season, Marshfield is shooting for the moon.
First-team all-Wisconsin Valley Conference players Anna Ripp (setter) and Stephanie Rhodes (outside hitter), and honorable mention outside hitter Alexa Aumann are back for the Tigers, who finished 10-2 last year in the WVC, in second place behind Merrill, and reached the WIAA Division 1 sectional finals before losing to D.C. Everest.
Libero Maureen Cassidy, middle blocker Jamila Ougayour, and defensive specialist Abby Pritzl are the Tigers’ other seniors that return, providing Marshfield with the experience and skill needed to contend again in the Valley.
Ripp racked up 921 assists, while Rhodes and Aumann combined for 650 kills last season.
“This group has the ability to do great things if they work hard every night and we stay healthy,” said Marshfield coach Dawn Sadowska, who is entering her 26th season as the Tigers’ head coach. “We should be one of the favorites to win the conference and our goal is to get back to the sectional final and win it this year.”
Junior hitters Jordyn Wilcott, Katie Osinski and Johanna Beyer, junior setter Corianne Johnson, and sophomore hitter Karly Nikolai will provide depth for the Tigers.
“I think our strength this year is our varsity experience, especially in big matches,” Sadowska said. “This group of seniors is really hungry after last year’s loss in the sectional final. We also are very versatile offensively. Our hitters can hit from every position, and we plan to take advantage of that.”
Head coach Buff Heller, who is entering his 15th season as the Rockets’ coach, admittedly said he will have to change the team’s style of play this season as they try to replace a number of hard hitters and experience players.
However, Spencer also has five returning letterwinners and in the ever-changing world of high school sports, expects to be a contender again in the Cloverbelt Conference East Division.
The Rockets will be looking for their fifth conference title in a row, a year after running the table with a perfect 7-0 mark in the Cloverbelt East.
Senior hitters Liz Endreas and Jenna Schober, senior setter McKenzie Bainer, senior libero Jenna Rogers, and junior setter Sadie Mercier are back for the Rockets and will bring the experience needed to make the necessary changes for Spencer to continue to be a top contender in the conference.
“We have lost a lot of height, but we bring back a lot of experience,” Heller said. “We just need to play a little different style. We need to be quicker and smarter, and not rely on the power game. There are a bunch of good teams that want to push us this year, so we will need to be on our ‘A’ game every night.”
Senior middle hitter Johanna Ellefson is returning after suffering a knee injury last fall, and senior Montana Kleinschmidt is switching from middle hitter to outside as they will add depth on the front line. Senior Courtney Buss will also play a big role as a defensive specialist for the Rockets.
Columbus Catholic Dons
Columbus Catholic made a big jump in the Cloverbelt Conference East Division last year as head coach Kat Egle led a group that finished 4-3 in the conference and reached the WIAA Division 4 regional finals before falling to Wausau Newman Catholic.
The Dons are hoping to take another step forward in 2016 as they bring back six returning seniors, four of which have been on the varsity squad since they were freshmen.
Kendra Baierl, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter, is a two-time all-Cloverbelt East player and will anchor the front line after totaling 376 kills in 2015.
Also back are honorable mention all-conference setter Jennifer Reigel, who had 669 assists last season; second-team all-conference hitter Celine Scholin (245 kills in 2015); and hitters Maddie DeSmet and Natalie Pospyhalla; and honorable mention all-conference libero Sierra Litwatis, who had a team-high 336 digs last season.
“With a strong senior group, I expect us to do well,” Egle said. “We play well as a team and they get along on and off the court. The girls worked very hard in the offseason, and most of them are two or three sport athletes. They came into the season in great shape and are ready to push each other, and themselves, to become the best team they can be.”
Sophomores Maren Seefluth and Kate Turchi (hitters), Annie Baierl and Katie Hall (defensive specialists), Mckenzie Hansen (middle blocker), and Brooke Neider (setter/defensive specialist) will also battle for playing time.
Auburndale will go through some changes this season as only one senior is back, although six others that saw playing time a year ago also return.
The lone returning senior, libero Brooke Anderson, was an honorable mention all-Marawood Conference South Division performer last year as the Apaches finished 4-2 and in third place in the conference before taking an unusually early exit from the WIAA Division 3 playoffs, losing to Loyal/Granton.
Juniors Lauren Dillinger, Hannah Bolder, Rachael Bolder and Blaire Meyer, and sophomores Mackenzie Raab and Cindy Jensen also return for Auburndale, with Raab expecting to be the setter and the others filling in on the front line.
“I am very excited to watch our young team grow throughout the season,” head coach Peggy Empey said. “They are hard-working, dedicated and very goal oriented. They have a great deal of heart for the sport of volleyball and greatly enjoy each others’ company.”
Sophomores Teryn Lau, Alexis Soppe and Lindsay Petersen will help provide depth for Auburndale.
“The girls have put their team goals above their own individual goals, and many are playing in very different positions than they did last season,” Empey said. “They have accepted these changes and are always sacrificially open to anything that will make their team stronger.”
Stratford coach Brooke Kafka isn’t mincing any words – she said her team’s goal is to win the Marawood Conference South Division title for the first time.
With seven returning players, including honorable mention all-conference middle hitters Andie Zuelke and Makayla Krall, Kafka said the Tigers are primed for a big year.
“Our goal this season is to put a year on the banner,” Kafka said. “Every step we take this season – each practice, game, and tournament – is with a purpose. It is an impressive accomplishment to be Marawood conference champion and it is absolutely what we are working for. We are done looking at an empty banner.”
Senior defensive specialists Katie Krueger and Val Licciardi, sophomore left hitter Mazie Nagel, and sophomore setters Brooke Peterson and Jadyn Dahlke will join Zuelke, a senior, and Krall, a junior, and sophomore newcomer Blaire Linder (left hitter) in working toward that lofty goal.
“We had a very young team last season and even though we are still a young team, we are not the same team,” Kafka said. “There has been an immense amount of growth since last season and players are filling each role on our team very nicely.”