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Janesville schools serve up volleyball season

By Eric Schmoldt
August 29, 2015

Every year around this time, about a half-dozen area volleyball teams see their seasons go from zero to 60 in a matter of one Janesville weekend.

Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker hosted their annual joint tournament Friday and Saturday with 16 teams playing seven two-game matches of pool play Friday before splitting into upper and lower divisions Saturday.

It gives teams a chance to see how they stack up against different levels of competition right away to start their seasons.

It is also a chance for sports editors like me to catch a glimpse of local teams and players and get a feel for what the season is about to bring. With that in mind, here are some thoughts and previews as conference play begins in earnest this week:

Craig aims to stay near top

Janesville Craig finished tied for third in the Big Eight Conference a year ago but lost all-Gazette and first-team all-league selections McKenzie Bertagnolli and Gaby Loveland to graduation.

Still, coach Blake Budrow likes the Cougars' depth and feels they can once again be in the Big Eight mix.

“We have hitter depth, setter depth, a good club,” said Budrow, who saw his team go 10-4 in pool play and advance to the gold bracket Saturday. “They're buying into their roles, fun at practice, and they're pushing each other every day.

“They like the competition in practice, trying to beat each other out.”

Junior setter Melanie Tinker, honorable mention in the conference a year ago, is back. She is a captain along with senior libero Annie Schumacher and Maddie Hodge.

“Mel's kind of in charge of the offense, and Annie and Maddie are in charge of the defense,” Budrow said.

Junior Jenna Brandt stood out during play Friday for Craig with 17 aces and 22 kills. Senior Emma Knutson led all Cougars with 24 kills.

“I would imagine Verona and Sun Prairie (battling at the top of the Big Eight) again,” Budrow said. “And then Middleton, I'm sure, and if we can play consistently, hopefully we'll be up there.”

Parker climbing the ladder

Janesville Parker was one spot short of qualifying for the gold division over the weekend after it finished fifth in its pool Friday.

Still, second-year coach Andy Kimball was left feeling optimistic about a team that ranked near the middle of the conference in 2014.

“I felt like we were competitive every single set (Friday) and closed out strong,” Kimball said. “Our blocking is huge. If we block well, it makes our defense play better … and then everyone plays better.”

Five-foot-10 senior Taylor Holcomb and 6-foot freshman Julia Hartwig give the Vikings a couple imposing players up front.

“The nice thing is they're strong girls, so they put up a strong block, they're not just tall,” Kimball said.

Allie Matzke—an honorable mention pick in the league—returns and captains the team with fellow Holcomb and Andrea Lawrence, all seniors.

Shannon Ryan, an honorable-mention setter as a freshman, moved away during the offseason, but Reave Myszewski and Mackenzie Forrest gained valuable varsity experience last year.

Kimball is still searching for the best lineup combinations.

“Their attitude and their mentality and their confidence is at a different level than it was,” he said. “Just entering with a little bit of confidence changes how well they play.”

Same old story in the Rock?

East Troy has ruled the roost in the Rock Valley North recently and is just a year removed from a state championship.

Big Foot has long dominated the Rock Valley South, though Brodhead snared a share of the title last year.

Plot lines in the league might remain the same in 2015.

The Trojans return three first-team all-league seniors, including M.E. Dodge, who will play for the University of Wisconsin.

Keep an eye on Edgerton. The Crimson Tide were the only team to sweep Craig in pool play Friday. They return all-Gazette selection Kellan Schmidt and have four returning players who received some sort of all-league status last year.

Big Foot and Brodhead appear to be the clear favorites in the South again. They both advanced to the gold division in this past weekend's tournament. Big Foot won both games in Friday's pool-play match, though the teams were playing in their seventh matches of the day, so take from that what you will.

Brodhead seniors Amber Pickel and Kylie Moe were first-team selections a year ago—and Moe the player of the year—when the Cardinals ended Big Foot's 56-match RVC South winning streak.

Edgewood still atop the Badger South?

Madison Edgewood lost in the D2 state final to East Troy two years ago and again marched through the Badger South a year ago.

Expect the Crusaders to be the favorites once again, with Oregon and Fort Atkinson the top threats.

Folks in Milton think the Red Hawks can contend, but a season-opening loss to Oregon put them behind the eight ball a bit this past week. Senior outside hitter Rachel Butterfield gives Milton a returning first-team all-league player, and Kate Quade was honorable mention.

Southern Lakes hopes to continue state streak

The Southern Lakes Conference has sent a team to the Division 1 state tournament every year since 2008, including back-to-back state championships from Burlington in 2011 and 2012.

The Demons were back at the Resch Center again last year but lost in the semifinals.

They return two of their three all-SLC first-team selections from last year, as well as three other players who were honorable mention or better.

Eric Schmoldt is the Sports Editor of The Gazette.