Boys volleyball team excited to get started

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Jackson Meyer and Middleton’s boys volleyball team begin their season Thursday at Beloit Memorial./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

The wait is over.

And Middleton first-year boys volleyball coach Rob Kleinschmidt is giddy thinking about what the next six weeks could entail.

The Cardinals’ season typically runs in the fall. Due to COVID-19, though, the WIAA gave teams the option of postponing fall sports to the spring, and Middleton elected to do just that.

Middleton began practicing last week and its season will run until mid-April. And after going roughly 16 months since their last match, the Cardinals were thrilled to get things started.

“Getting back into the gym has been busy, but great,” said Kleinschmidt, whose team has its first match of the year Thursday at Beloit Memorial. “This year is a special feeling because it's been so long for the guys between seasons. We have a great group of guys in the program and I have loved the time getting to know them and their abilities.”

Kleinschmidt and the Cardinals know this will be a year like no other.

Roughly 75% of the state’s teams played volleyball last fall, meaning there won’t be nearly as many scheduling options for Kleinschmidt and the Cardinals. Middleton is only scheduling dual meets, meaning no invitationals. And the Cardinals will wear masks.

While all of those are an inconvenience, no one in Middleton’s camp is complaining.

“The landscape has changed so many times over the past few months and we have had to alter course and re-plan so often that right now it has just become part of what we do,” Kleinschmidt said. “Everything has been centered around the goal of making this year the best opportunity possible for the players. 

“The athletic department staff of (athletic director) Jamie Sims, (assistant A.D. Ben White and (athletics assistant) Melinda Ripp have helped me so much. I cannot thank them enough. 

“Right now we are focused on following the best protocols for player health and safety, finding as many opportunities to play as possible, and building our program to reach for its best each day. It has been a great ride so far, and I am excited.”

Kleinschmidt said the Cardinals have been able to schedule matches against the majority of teams that chose a spring schedule. And he’s encouraged by Middleton’s mix of returning talent and gifted newcomers.

Senior middle hitter Ruben Emmerich and senior setter Nick Stott were both named first-team all-conference in the fall of 2019.

Emmerich led the Cardinals with 72 blocks, the sixth-most for a single season in school history. Emmerich also ranked third on the team in kills (141) and finished with a .276 kill percentage.

“As we got deeper and deeper into the season Ruben just got better and better,” Justin Haack, Middleton’s interim coach in 2019, said after last season. “By the end of the season he was absolutely destroying balls and playing with a great deal of confidence. He's not the biggest on the court in size, but puts up the biggest block.”

Stott led the Cardinals with 837 assists in 2019, the fourth-most in a season in school history. He also ranked second on the team with 145 digs and was third in aces (37).

“Nick was the leader of our offensive attack as everything ran through him,” Haack said. “We ran a much more dynamic offense this year and Nick was a big reason we were able to do that. He's a great leader on the court and will continue to be a leader of this program.”

Emmerich and Stott headline a seven-player senior class that figures to excel.

Jacob Andler and DJ McCall are physical, outside hitters. Jackson Pertzborn is a defensive standout, while Calvin Gassen and Jackson Meyer are well-rounded players that will contribute in many areas.

“I owe this year's seniors a special mention,” Kleinschmidt said. “They have endured and persevered through all the shut-downs and changes and are still committed to the program even as their senior years are nearing an end. 

“They have come into the gym committed to building a positive culture between all teams. I have been highly impressed with both their positivity and willingness to lead by example in the gym.”

Kleinschmidt has also been encouraged by newcomers Cole Sweitzer, Kaden Fosdick, Ryane Frank, Colton Tubbs and John Krutchen. 

“We also have several other talented juniors and underclassmen that will find varsity time this year,” Kleinschmidt said.

Kleinschmidt has a lengthy track record of success.

From 1995-2001, Kleinschmidt led Hartland Arrowhead to state five times, where the Warhawks were state runners-up in 2001 and reached the state semifinals three other years. Kleinschmidt became the men’s coach at Milwaukee School of Engineering in 2003, and has been actively involved in the club and high school scene since.

When Kleinschmidt has a better grasp of his personnel, he expects Middleton to shine, as well.

“It is hard to tell, since other teams playing in this alternate season are probably dealing with the same challenges of who can still play, who has made plans already, etc.,” Kleinschmidt said. “We have been able to schedule matches against nearly all teams playing in this season so that will be great. We also do not know yet what any post-season will look like so we are focusing on what we can do to build our team and let the outside stuff fall where it may. I’m looking forward to an exciting brand of play from our guys.”

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