Area volleyball teams gear up for season
JANESVILLE—Coaches often say they don't know a lot about their teams until they get out on the field or court and face another team.
On Friday, many area volleyball coaches learned a lot about their teams in a hurry.
Janesville Craig hosted its annual invitational to kick off the season, where 16 teams split into two pools and squared off in two-set matches with seven teams over roughly seven hours at one of the two Janesville high schools.
“I love this tournament, and I hope the other teams do, too,” Craig coach Blake Budrow said amidst Friday's busy schedule. “We get area schools and also some from north of Madison. It's pretty competitive, and I'm very impressed with my team right now. They're young, but they're starting to get it.”
The Cougars won nine of 14 games Friday to advance to the winners' bracket of the tournament Saturday.
Defense looks to be their strength, and they'll be led by seniors McKenzie Bertagnolli, Gaby Loveland and Gabrielle Geller.
Across town at Parker, the Vikings won three games on their first day as they adjust to playing for first-year coach Andy Kimball.
Parker lists eight seniors on the roster, including Ally Gorman, Kat Dubanowich, Kyslee Grieve and Maddie Clarke. Kimball should have a nice mix of experience and talented younger players, as a couple of freshmen could see time on the court.
We'll learn more on the city teams this week when they get set to open Big Eight Conference play, but here's what else we've learned heading into the volleyball season:
Rock Valley South
Walworth Big Foot has owned the conference for years. Most of the players on the roster probably don't remember the last time the Chiefs lost a league match.
That streak might come to an end in 2014. Big Foot lost talented seniors Mackenzie Long and Amy Schryver from a team that came up just shy of a trip to state a year ago. The Chiefs are also transitioning to new coach Caitlin Dowden. Dowden and husband Mike—Big Foot's boys basketball coach—welcomed baby Mia into the world last week, but the Chiefs expect their head coach back when conference play starts.
The heir apparent to the throne in the South would seem to be Brodhead, which made it all the way to state last year. The Cardinals lost all-everything Carly Mohns to graduation, and they don't have a ton of size, but they should be solid with honorable mention all-league players Kylie Moe and Payton Wright returning.
Elsewhere, coach Maggie Clarke expects Beloit Turner to take a step up this year. Parkview gained needed experience last year but might experience growing pains early at the setter spot, where a transfer loss has put them in a bind. Clinton returns second-team all-conference player Kendra Holte.
Rock Valley North
The North has belonged to East Troy, and that is not expected to change this year. The Trojans were the top team in the state a year ago and didn't lose a single match on their way to a Division 2 state title. They lost some key seniors from that squad, but M.E. Dodge and Katrina Santos return.
Jefferson had three non-seniors make either first- or second-team all-conference a year ago, so expect a solid season for the Eagles. McFarland should be in contention for a top-half finish, as well.
Edgerton coach Mike Schmidt hopes to see his group improve from last year and contend for a top-three spot. Sophomore Kellan Schmidt was second-team all-league as a freshman.
The Milton Red Hawks kicked off their season with a victory over Oregon on Thursday night.
Fifth-year coach Wayne Hansen believes his team can contend for the conference crown along with Madison Edgewood and Fort Atkinson. Milton plays at Fort on Thursday in a key early-season battle.
Senior libero Samantha Soddy and junior Kate Quade are the team captains.
Westosha Central made it all the way to the Division 1 state-title match a year ago, losing a four-setter to Neenah.
Badger coach Jenn Chironis listed the Falcons and Burlington as the top contenders for the league crown this year.
The Badgers are young, but Chironis is looking for a finish in the top half of the conference after the team went 18-10 in her first year in 2013.
Keep an eye on Elkhorn, which has senior Maggie McGraw. McGraw was named an AAU All-American while playing this offseason for Club Fusion's 17U White team out of Marengo, Illinois. The team finished fifth, and she was named all-tournament to earn All-America status.