Boys spikers dominate all-Big 8 team

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MTT News Desk's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton senior outside hitter Andy Keeler was named the Big Eight Conference’s Player of the Year./File photo


A Big Eight Conference title.

A sectional crown. A trip to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.

Almost everything came up roses for Middleton’s boys volleyball team this year. And not surprisingly, the Cardinals dominated the league’s all-conference teams, as well.

Middleton senior outside hitter Andy Keeler, senior setter/opposite hitter Connor Zimmick and senior libero Colin Gloudemans were named first-team all-conference. Senior middle hitter Noah Kern was named second-team all-league, while junior outside hitter James Caldwell, senior setter Robbie Drachenberg and senior outside hitter Alex Klubertanz were all named honorable-mention all-conference.

Keeler was named the league’s Player of the Year, while Middleton coach Ben White was named the conference’s Coach of the Year.

“Fun year,” White said. “We played our best volleyball at the end of the season and that’s all you can ask.”

Keeler certainly had a fun season.

He led Middleton in kills (205) and had a solid attack percentage of .215. Keeler was also first in aces (41), tied for second in digs (181), and received high honorable mention all-state honors.

Keeler, a tri-captain, was a three-year varsity player who made his final season his best.

“When Andy was involved in the offense, we were very tough to beat,” White said. “He plays at a high level, but is always very even-keeled. 

“However, when Andy got excited about a big play, the entire team would erupt because we knew it was something special. He has high volleyball I.Q. and is intelligent off the court as well. He’s a definite role model for all the younger players in the program.”

Zimmick had a sensational year and earned second-team all-state honors.

He led the Cardinals in assists (453), was fourth in kills (122) and second among Middleton’s regulars in attack percentage (.358). The 6-foot-6 Zimmick was also second in aces (38), fourth in digs (131) and first in total blocks (67).

“Nobody was playing better at the end of the year than Connor Zimmick,” White said.  “For the last month he was easily one of the top five to eight players in the state of Wisconsin. I couldn’t be happier for him that he received second-team all-state. He definitely deserved it.”

Late in the season, White changed Middleton’s rotation to get the ball to Zimmick more. In Middleton’s final five matches, Zimmick had 59 kills and just eight errors. Zimmick was arguably the best player on the floor during Middleton’s loss at state to Germantown, he was voted Middleton’s MVP by his teammates and was also named a tri-captain.

“He was clutch when you needed a clutch player,” White said. “He came in with high expectations three years ago and especially this year. It took a little while but he came around and he went above anything I could have expected both on and off the court. I’m very proud of all he accomplished this year.”

Gloudemans was Middleton’s libero the last 2 ½ years and was a dynamo in the back row. This season, Gloudemans led Middleton with 272 digs and was also named a tri-captain.

“Halfway through his sophomore year, I threw him in a match at the Cardinal Invite, and since then we’ve never looked back,” White said. “Colin could hit and play all the way around, but we needed his leadership and his intelligence in the back row all year. 

“He is a competitor and nobody worked harder in the strength and conditioning sessions than Colin. Colin had no fear in the back row and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”

Kern was named second-team all-conference, but White felt he deserved far better.

Kern was second on the Cardinals in kills (188) and led the team with a .378 attack percentage. Kern was also third in blocks (65) and sixth in digs (49).

“There was no better middle in conference, and I don’t think a middle made first-team all-conference, which doesn’t make sense to me,” White said. “Kern hit hard. Really hard. And he was the player other coaches around the state would notice. He can jump and he can hit. And when he is on, you aren’t stopping him. 

“Kern is an intense player and expects greatness out of himself. He is explosive. And there is no way he is only second team all-conference. I’m sorry, but if you put him on any other team in conference, that coach is nominating him for conference player of the year.”

Klubertanz is another player White felt deserved better.

Klubertanz was third on the Cardinals in kills (150) and had a .209 attack percentage. Klubertanz was fourth in blocks (43), sixth in digs (47) and voted Middleton’s Most Improved Player.

“Kluby hit with a cannon on the outside,” White said. “Alex hit both outside and right side for us and he made the biggest difference blocking down the stretch. From where Alex was at the beginning of the year to the confidence he played with at the end of the year was night and day.”

Drachenberg was one of Middleton’s two setters, and finished second with 436 assists. He was also fifth in digs (97).

“Robbie has the ability to run the show by himself, but with the depth we had, I had to put in an Alex or Kern for Robbie in the front row,” White said. “But I know he can play all-around. He proved it in practice daily. 

“He was the politest player on the team. I’d love saying, ‘Nice set Robbie,’ because I’d always get a ‘Thank you Coach,’ right back. Robbie is just a solid kid and player. 

“He’d be the No. 1 setter and running a 5-1 offense on another team but ours. But Robbie is a great team player. He never complained and always did what we asked. We were lucky to have him.”

Caldwell was the Cardinals’ lone junior honored, and he’ll be counted on for big things next year. Caldwell tied for second in digs (181), was sixth in kills (83) and fifth in blocks (25).

“James came on as one of our outside hitters,” White said. “He had no training other than basic drills and hit lines. He’s always been a defensive specialist. Well those days are gone. He’s a hitter and a big block. 

“James is so solid in the back row. A lot will be put on James next year because of his experience and his ability. I know he will more than be able to handle it and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
As for White, he won Coach of the Year honors for a fifth time. And after leading to Middleton to its seventh league title in eight years, perhaps the biggest question is how White hasn’t been honored more.

“It’s a nice honor to receive, but it goes to the coaching staff, players and the parents that help support the program,” White said. “The parents who organize everything — from pasta parties, to concessions to coordinating volunteers at the Cardinal Invite — allow me to focus on coaching.”

• More awards: Cardinals senior Michael Padrutt won the Coaches Award, which is given to the player that best represents Middleton both on and off the court. 

“Michael didn’t see a lot of playing time, but worked his tail off every single day in practice,” White said. “He was also the player you could count on to help with anything at a moment’s notice.”

Also, former Middleton standout Tim Owen was named the state’s Coach of the Year. Owen is now the head coach at Brookfield East and guided the Spartans to just the second state appearance in school history and their first-ever victory at state.

Owen, in his sixth season at Brookfield East, took over a fledging program and brought it to new heights. Owen, a 2001 graduate from MHS, was an all-state volleyball player while at MHS.

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