Boys spikers hope to take it up a notch

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Eagan Peters-Michaud is one of the top returnees for Middleton’s boys volleyball team this season./File photo

Ben White doesn’t mince words.

Middleton’s boys’ volleyball coach and his ultra-successful Cardinals have built one of the strongest programs in the state.

Middleton has won 11 of the last 12 Big Eight Conference championships. The Cardinals have a 63-game winning streak in the league.

Middleton is coming off a season where it set a school-record with 33 wins. And the Cardinals have been to the state tournament five straight years.

Many programs dream of such success, and White certainly appreciates what his teams have accomplished. But what drives White and everyone inside his program is the fact the Cardinals haven’t won a match at state since 2008, going 0-6 at state in that time.

“We are past the ‘nice to be there’ phase,” White said of the state tournament. “I think like the last five years, our goal is to be playing on the last day of the season. To do that, we have to win a match at state and we haven't done that since 2008. I think we are ready and capable of competing with the top five-to-eight teams in state for a chance to finish in the final four.”

This could very well be the Cardinals breakthrough season.

Middleton welcomes back senior outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud, a first-team all-conference selection last year, and second-team all-Big Eight middle blocker Sam Dettman. In addition, the Cardinals bring back a handful of contributors from last year and welcome several gifted newcomers.

The combination of veterans and incoming talent has White buzzing.

“I think this year's team will be one of the most offensively prolific teams I've had in a while,” White said. “If we can block and serve tough, I think that really separates the state champions from everyone else.”

Middleton will build around Peters-Michaud and Dettman.

Peters-Michaud will be a third-year starter on the outside. Last season, Peters-Michaud led the Cardinals with 287 kills and added 25 aces, 23 blocks and 165 digs.

“He has been through the storms and knows what to expect,” White said. “We will be counting on him to help be consistent on the outside. Eagan seems to be playing at a higher level offensively very early in the season. He has a lot of power in the swing. The key will be for him to be consistent. Opponents know about Eagan's abilities, so I'm sure many teams will key on him.”

Dettman became a force in the middle last year and finished with 187 kills, 18 aces and 33 blocks.

“Sam Dettman will surprise the state, but not those that know him,” White said. “Since the end of his sophomore year he has continued to get better weekly. Sam has a chance to be a dominant player in the middle. He is not the tallest in the middle, but he puts up a very big block and is tough to stop. He is one of the reasons why I think this is the best offensive team we've had in a number of years.”

Senior Dylan Griffith takes over the libero position. Griffith was buried behind all-state player Thomas Robson in recent years, but still had 24 aces and 227 digs.

“Just a solid player,” White said of Griffith. “He will provide our defense with a great foundation. He will step into a leadership role on the team as well.

“He has a very tough serve and is a very, very smart player. The coaching staff has already joked that someday Dylan will win every city men's league championship because of his volleyball IQ.”

Senior Owen Engling, who stands 6-feet-6, will most likely be the Cardinals’ big on the right side.

“We're looking at moving him from middle to right side to be a giant block,” White said. “And he's big enough to hit over the block on offense. At 6-6, he is an intimidating presence at the net and will most likely be lined up against the other team's best outside hitter.”

Junior Parker Van Buren, who is also 6-foot-6, will be Middleton’s other outside hitter.

“We will look for Eagan and Parker to play all the way around so they can be weapons out of the back row,” White said. “For the last few years, our defense has been our calling card, I think this year our offense will definitely be our strength. Parker and Eagan could be one of the top 1-2 punches at the outside in the state by the end of the year.”

Senior Matt Ballweg takes over the setter position that Andrew Lepage excelled at in recent seasons. Ballweg, coming off a highly successful baseball season, seems poised for a big year.

“We want him to take the job and run with it,” White said of Ballweg. “We want him to not worry about filling Andrew Lepage's shoes, but just do what we know he can.

“He is a solid athlete and proved that during the baseball season. We’re hoping the experience of taking the mound in the Big Eight for baseball will give him the confidence to take the lead on this team. He has all the weapons a setter could ask for. If Matt is consistent, we'll be a very good team.”

Junior Max McDonough is in the hunt to become Middleton’s second middle blocker. Junior Matthew Stormer figures to be the Cardinals’ defensive specialist and will play in the back row for the Cardinals’ rightside hitter. Junior Scott Buros is an extremely powerful player who’s competing for time as an outside hitter.

One reason for the Cardinals’ success is a bond that’s created throughout the program.

At the start of every practice, varsity players are paired with younger players to work on fundamentals and get to know each other.

“This way each young player is getting 1-on-1 instruction from a mentor,” White said.

White also meets with his entire coaching staff on a daily basis to talk about the lower level teams.

“I always know what is going on at the JV and freshmen levels,” White said.

White undoubtedly knows his close-knit program inside and out. He fully understands the Cardinals have outstanding talent once again.

Now, the great mystery he wants to solve is winning matches at state.

“You have to have a little bit of luck, along with a whole lot of skill and mental determination,” White said.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the year.

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