Boys spikers seeking greatness

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Brian Verganz (12) and Middleton’s boys volleyball team have extremely high hopes this season./File photo

Middleton’s boys volleyball team produced a bevy of sensational teams over the last 15 years.

The Cardinals have qualified for the WIAA state tournament four consecutive years and nine times since 2002. Middleton reached the state semifinals in both 2007 and ’08.

And the Cardinals have won 10 of the last 11 Big Eight Conference championships.

That’s a remarkable run that almost any program in the state would love to call its own.

Don't look now, but when Middleton begins its new season Tuesday at Beloit Memorial, it could field the best team in school history.

“I think based on experience and depth, this team has the chance to be one of the top teams we’ve had at Middleton,” Cardinals coach Ben White said. “We’ve had an unreal run over the last 11 years and this team could compete with some of the best.

“We have key pieces at all the necessary spots and multiple players that can step in at any time and deliver. I think because of the depth, it reminds me of those top teams we’ve had. I think this team also has the confidence factor on their side that some of our teams have been missing recently. Having been to state the last four years, these guys know what to expect.”

Middleton returns Big Eight Conference Player of the Year in libero Thomas Robson, and three others players that earned all-conference honors. In addition, White was named the state’s Coach of the Year in 2016.

Robson, beginning his fourth season as Middleton’s starting libero, figures to be one of the top players in the state. Last season, Robson was named second-team all-state after finishing with a sensational 532 digs. Robson also led the Cardinals in aces (34) and was third on the team in assists (61).

“Whenever you start with one of the top libero's in state, you are going to be ahead of the game,” White said. “On top of that (Robson) is a player who has been to state every year of his career, has never lost a Big Eight match and has traveled the country playing with one of the top volleyball clubs in the country. There is nothing he hasn't seen or played against.

“He's a two-time captain and a leader on and off the court. Role model. You name it he does it. But I'll say this, because of our depth and our experience returning, there isn’t any extra pressure on him. He will take care of the back row and his teammates will follow.”

Senior setter Andrew Lepage was named first-team all-Big Eight and will be the Cardinals’ starting setter for a third straight season. Lepage already holds the school record with 1,397 assists and had 805 assists last year. Lepage also finished second on the team in aces (29) and digs (219) a year ago.

“Andrew will be running a 5-1 offense for us this year from the start,” White said. “He too is a tri-captain and leads by example. Defensively, Thomas and Andrew will be as tough of a match-up as teams will see around the state.”

Senior middle blocker Brian Verganz was named second-team all-Big Eight a year ago. Verganz led the Cardinals with 41 blocks last season and finished third on the team with 246 kills.

“By the end of last year, he was our No. 1 option and he looks to continue that this year,” White said of Verganz. “We are trying to make him more versatile this year and varying the sets he receives.”

Junior outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud was named honorable-mention all-conference last season. Peters-Michaud finished second on the team in kills (256) and added 130 digs and 19 aces.

“This offseason, he played for the Milwaukee Volleyball Club 16’s team that finished third at nationals and were ranked No. 1 in the country for a while,” White said of Peters-Michaud. “He's a weapon on the outside even though he only comes in at 6-0.

“I'd use the word explosive, but what we need is consistency. We need him to play all-around. We need him to be consistent with his jump serve. He is a very good player and now we as a coaching staff have to help him become a great player by learning the little details of the game.”

The Cardinals return several other key cogs, as well.

Senior defensive specialist Brady Schmitt had 20 aces, 167 assists and 141 digs last year.

“He has a nose for the ball,” White said of Schmitt. “Very unassuming player, but he just makes plays. He will be in a battle for back row playing time, but he's just a great kid to have on the team. He makes no waves, does his job and is very supportive of others.”

Senior Carson Blair was a defensive specialist a year ago and is now in the mix for an outside hitter position.

“He plays with a lot of confidence,” White said of Blair. “He enjoys being on the court and is super competitive.”

Senior right side hitter Casey McKean is an emerging player. While McKean is just 5-foot-11, White says his leaping ability “makes him play like a 6-3 player.”

“He’s dynamic on the right side,” White said of McKean. “He’s a lefty and we are focusing on making him an offensive option.

“He's improved a ton from his junior to senior year. Also, he is more mentally focused this year, and if we can keep him at that level, he'll be quite good.”

Senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Jacob Nonn has grown a foot since his freshman year and now stands 6-2. White says that Nonn is a “solid defender and great passer” and is battling for the second outside hitter position.

Senior Avery Krantz could factor in at outside hitter. Junior Sam Dettman is the frontrunner to be the second middle hitter, while junior Dylan Griffith is a defensive specialist who figures to see a lot of court time.

“Sam is very athletic and a smart player,” White said of Dettman. “I think he is going to be one of the surprise players in the conference.

“Dylan is about as fundamentally sound as you get in the back row. He's very consistent. We just want him to be more aggressive.”

Junior Matt Ballweg will be the back-up setter, and White says Ballweg “would probably start for most teams in conference. I feel very comfortable with him running the offense as he makes great decisions.”

Junior Owen Engling is 6-foot-5, while sophomore Max McDonough is 6-4 and Parker Van Buren is 6-3. All three have the potential to become standouts down the road.

“They are developing their skills and it’s exciting to watch them improve every day,” White said of that trio. “Some day it's going to be impressive to have a front row of these guys because they aren't done growing.”

The Cardinals aren’t done growing either. And White believes if things break right, Middleton could be poised for perhaps its most memorable year ever.

“This is a team that I hope can be playing on the last day of the season,” White said. “But I've coached long enough that I know you need skill and a little bit of luck to make that happen. Usually good teams make their own luck though.”

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