GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW

PRESEASON AREA RANKINGS

1, Sun Prairie; 2, Lakeside Lutheran; 3, Waunakee; 4, Watertown; 5, Mount Horeb; 6, Middleton; 7, Monona Grove; 8, Fort Atkinson; 9, Stoughton; 10, Waterloo. 

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. No nights off: The Badger South welcomes Watertown, a perennially strong program, to an already highly competitive league that saw Monona Grove, Stoughton and Fort Atkinson tie for the overall conference crown in 2016, after the dual and tournament standings were compiled. “MG, Stoughton (and) Fort Atkinson have really strong programs,” Monroe coach Heidi Witt said. “Our entire conference is tough, though, so any team has the potential to be a top team. And we want to be one of those teams.” Added Oregon coach Katie Heitz: “Many teams are bringing back experienced players, which should provide a lot of parity again in the Badger South this year.”

2. Rock and roll: The Rock Valley returns to a single, 10-team conference this year after being split into North and South divisions. East Troy — led by last year’s Rock Valley North co-player of the year Brianna Scuric (who shared the honor with McFarland’s Emma Eckel) — McFarland and Edgerton are expected to compete for top honors. “Overall, the conference will be tough,” first-year Edgerton coach Sharon Fox said.

3. Chasing the Cardinals: After a dominating season in league play in 2016, Sun Prairie returns a formidable team seeking to defend its Big Eight Conference crown and make another long postseason run. Sun Prairie advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals last year, falling to eventual champion Neenah.

4. Under construction: The Badger North — expected to be led by Waunakee and Mount Horeb — adds Beaver Dam, which faces the challenge of having its school under renovation. The team is playing under the slogan, “Be the Change,” after struggling last year. “Can we survive musical gyms while our new one is being built,” new Golden Beavers coach Alan Capps said. “Can we survive a new conference? Can we mesh with a new coach? Can the upperclassmen welcome the underclassmen?”

5. Great expectations: Lakeside Lutheran reached the WIAA Division 2 state semifinals in 2016, falling to Green Bay Notre Dame. “With a strong core of players returning, with some hard work at the beginning of the season, I feel we will be very competitive again this season,” said Lakeside Lutheran coach Jenny Krauklis, who’s starting her sixth season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Claire Chaussee, sr., outside hitter, Sun Prairie — Chaussee, a Louisville recruit, was a first-team coaches’ all-state selection last year; a first-team pick in the Big Eight and the conference player of the year; and a first-team pick and the 2016 player of the year on the Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com All-Area team.

Amber Rowoldt, sr., outside hitter, Lakeside Lutheran — Rowoldt, a Palm Beach Atlantic University recruit, was an honorable-mention all-state pick; a first-team selection in the Capitol North and the conference player of the year; and a first-team All-Area choice.

Claire Mosher, sr., setter/hitter, Waterloo — Mosher, a Marquette recruit, was an honorable-mention all-state choice; a first-team pick in the Capitol South and co-player of the year in the conference; and first-team All-Area.

McKenna Warnock, jr., middle hitter/outside hitter, Monona Grove — Warnock was an honorable-mention all-state selection; a first-team all-Badger South pick; and a first-team All-Area choice.

AROUND THE AREA

BIG EIGHT CONFERENCE

Defending champion Sun Prairie is the favorite, with Middleton, Verona and Janesville Craig expected to be top challengers.

Senior outside hitter Claire Chaussee, a Louisville recruit and first-team all-state pick, leads Sun Prairie, which has 10 letterwinners returning, including four starters, from a team that advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament semifinals in 2016. “We expect to compete for the Big Eight championship and play as far into the postseason as we can,” said Cardinals coach T.J. Rantala said, in her 11th season. “To accomplish this, we will need to come together as a team and work as one unit.” The Cardinals also return senior libero Liz Maastricht and senior right-side hitter Bailey Ledford. Setters on Rantala’s roster include senior Ally Keuler and senior Sam Krekel. The Cardinals have started the season well, winning their own tournament, defeating Watertown in the final.

Middleton coach Franco Marcos — who has nine letterwinners returning, including five starters —believes his team will be in the conversation for the conference title. “It is one of the most talented group of players that I have had recently,” Marcos said. Junior outside hitter Lily Welti leads the Cardinals’ attack. “She is one of the hardest hitters in the state and has a tough jump serve,” Marcos said. Senior middle hitter Jennifer McGinnis and junior middle hitter Hannah Flottmeyer will set the wall for Middleton, while senior right-side hitter Keller Frinzi likely will be an all-around player this season. Seniors Ashley Harris and senior Kayla Underwood are expected to be the team’s setters. Underwood and sophomore outside hitter Evie Coleman are newcomers to the program after transferring, Marcos said.

Amanda Carlson is expected to lead coach Blake Budrow’s Janesville Craig team, which has 10 letterwinners returning.

Verona has 11 letterwinners, including five starters, returning. Coach Kelly Annen has five seniors back — middle blocker Kirstin Tidd, right-side hitter Priya Shenoi, outside hitter Hannah Worley, defensive specialist/libero Katie Karnosky and defensive specialist/setter Amie Rudnicki. “With the understanding that communication and consistency are our team’s top priorities, we anticipate being a contender for the conference title this season,” Annen said.

Madison La Follette coach Tarah Harms hopes the Lancers will finish in the upper half of the conference. “We are expecting our best season in quite a few years,” Harms said. Senior outside hitter Stella Oruruo, 6-2 sophomore middle blocker Jymeni Willoughby and 6-0 junior outside hitter/right-side hitter Ayona Johnson will lead La Follette at the net, while senior libero Lily Avila and senior defensive specialist Alex Conners will lead the back row.

Coach Joe Cooper’s Madison West squad returns eight letterwinners, including two starters, and hopes to make a move up in the conference after a second-division finish in 2016.

Madison East coach Liz Nagel expects to have one of her stronger teams, led by junior setters Paige Buske and Reegan Olson, junior middle hitter Ashayla Moseberry, junior outside hitters Lea Krasniqi and Rachael Muldrow and senior defensive specialist Madeline Conowall. “We have a solid core group coming back that will help lead the program in the right direction,” Nagel said.

Senior setter Amber Jensen and 6-0 senior outside hitter Olivia Makinen will lead Beloit Memorial, which will be boosted by freshman talent as new coach Alivia Holman hopes the Purple Knights can pursue an upper-division finish.

BADGER NORTH CONFERENCE 

Mount Horeb, which fell to Lakeside Lutheran in the WIAA Division 2 sectional finals last year, and Waunakee, which was stopped by Sun Prairie in a Division 1 sectional final in 2016, again are favorites to duel for the Badger North crown.

Waunakee coach Anne Denkert’s team, off to a strong start in early-season tournament play, will be led by Kiana Schmitt, the junior middle hitter who has orally committed to Creighton. CiCi Rindy and Milla Malik, who's new to the program, also will spur on the Warriors. 

Mount Horeb comes off a banner year in which the Vikings finished 29-9 and won their first conference title and regional championship and reached the sectional final for the first time, coach Kurt Owen said. The Vikings lost five players who saw considerable action last season, but Owen is confident others can fill the void. “We have big goals again this year,” Owen said. “We expect to compete at the top of the conference, with the goal of winning it again.” Senior outside hitter Gaby Shay — a strong defender, effective passer and crafty hitter — and junior middle hitter Jadyn Holman, who led the team in blocks in 2016, will lead Mount Horeb. Senior setter Grace Shay will run the Vikings’ offense and Owen expects sophomore middle hitter Elise Goetzinger to make an impact.

Baraboo coach Morgan Liebetrau has high hopes for Lia Kieck, a junior middle blocker and returning starter. Kieck totaled 182 kills, 118 digs, 57 blocks and 48 service aces last season. “Our team will definitely be going through a bit of a rebuilding year, just because of the amount of talent we lost due to graduation,” Liebetrau said. “However, I am confident that we have a great deal of talent returning as well.”

Sophee Mink, a 6-1 middle hitter, is expected to lead DeForest, which has a new coach in Scott Schumann, who led Waterloo to two state titles. Other key contributors should be senior setters Hannah Miller and Mimi Murphy, senior defensive specialist Skeeler Schroeder and outside hitter/right-side hitter Hannah McMahon. Schumann believes the Norskies will challenge for the league crown. "We are raw, but talented," Schumann said. "And it'll take us about another two weeks to start clicking well." 

Outside hitters Brooklyn Schyvinck and Mallory Stingley will be key attackers and blockers for Reedsburg. Libero Cheyanne Grundahl and setter Allison Gesteland also figure prominently. “(We’re) looking forward to experience gained last year to open more opportunities offensively and defensively,” Reedsburg coach Sheila Green said.

Beaver Dam is new to the conference, after struggling last year in the Wisconsin Little Ten Conference. Alan Capps is the Golden Beavers’ new coach and will count on senior libero Harlee Bussewitz, junior middle blocker Tara Stauffacher and senior middle blocker Afton Bartol. Capps is excited by the jolt of energy provided by sophomores Sydney Hocker, Kendall Wietzke, Summer Salletal and Emily Schliesman and freshman Haley Allen. “These youngsters are electric,” Capps said.

BADGER SOUTH CONFERENCE 

Monona Grove — led by McKenna Warnock — was the dual-season champion, Fort Atkinson was the conference tournament champion and Stoughton, Monona Grove and Fort Atkinson shared the overall conference championship (after combining results of the dual and tournament competitions). Those three teams are expected to be at the top again.

Watertown, which has been perennially strong in girls volleyball, enters the Badger South this season. Senior Lauren Burd, a 5-10 middle blocker, led the Wisconsin Little Ten in blocks last year for Goslings coach Melissa Hahn. Also returning are 6-0 senior outside hitter Amanda Feder, 6-0 junior middle blocker Brianne Korducki and junior defensive specialist Sheridan Dettman. Sophomore Isabelle Schauer takes over at setter.

Monona Grove coach Sarah Busalacchi said the Silver Eagles must rebuild after losing seven letterwinners, but believes they can finish in the top three in league play. “We have an extremely talented senior and junior group of athletes,” she said. “They work hard and have been preparing in the offseason.”

Stoughton comes off a 29-5 season that resulted in a share of the overall conference standings crown last year. Coach Kelly Sorensen expects the Vikings to be strong defensively, led by junior Hannah Wirag, senior Tessa Berry and junior Megan Adams. The 5-foot-7 Adams is the setter in Stoughton’s fast-paced attack. The front row will be led by 5-9 Olivia Panthofer, a senior outside hitter; 5-10 Sena Sperloen, a senior middle blocker; and 5-11 Kat Eugster, a sophomore right-side hitter.

Senior outside hitter Alyssa Milski, junior setter Erin Flanagan and junior libero Emily Konop lead Oregon, seeking to challenge the favorites. “We have high expectations for this year,” said Panthers coach Katie Heitz, starting her third season. “We need to secure our defense and we should be able to be in the top half of the conference.”

Milton also looks to challenge the favorites. Red Hawks coach Wayne Hansen will count on juniors Courtney Knutson and Chloe Buescher and senior Kailey Harbort.

Kendra Lee is expected to lead Madison Edgewood’s lineup.

Monroe coach Heidi Witt has five seniors and one junior who will lead the way: seniors Alexis Allen (setter), Alysha Witt (setter), Meredith Hose (defensive specialist), Payton Sigafus (outside hitter) and Sydney Mathiason (middle hitter) and junior outside hitter Sydney Hilliard. “Most of these girls are coming off successful basketball, track and softball seasons, so they are excited to compete,” Heidi Witt said.

CAPITOL NORTH CONFERENCE 

Lakeside Lutheran and Watertown Luther Prep are expected to be the favorites, with Lake Mills in the hunt. 

Lakeside Lutheran coach Jenny Krauklis believes the Warriors will be strong again this season due to an experienced roster. Lakeside Lutheran, 38-5 last year, was undefeated in conference play and reached the WIAA Division 2 state semifinals, falling to Green Bay Notre Dame in four sets. The Warriors return much of that team, including outside hitter Amber Rowoldt, a Palm Beach Atlantic University recruit who was the conference player of the year in 2016; libero Kaitlyn Gehler, a UW-Green Bay recruit; and setter Ellie Westrate, a Calvin College recruit. Kelsey Birschbach, Ella Collins and Payton Kuepers are middle blockers and Kaitlyn Shadoski and Morgan Thiele are right-side hitters.

Columbus coach Stephanie Juedes saw her team make solid strides last season, notably with its kill and serving percentages, and believes that improvement and confidence will continue this year. The Cardinals are led by 6-2 middle blocker Ashley Henry, who totaled 197 kills and 154 total blocks in 2016; Emma Dugan, a setter and right-side hitter in a 6-2 offense; and Lauren Kirchberg, who returns to varsity for her third complete season and who has played a variety of positions, including libero and setter.

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CAPITOL SOUTH CONFERENCE 

The Capitol South should feature a competitive league race, with Wisconsin Heights, Waterloo, Marshall and Belleville expected to compete for the top spots. Wisconsin Heights finished atop conference play last year and advanced to a WIAA Division 3 sectional final.

Waterloo has nine returning letterwinners, including four starters, and has more height and skilled players this season, coach Nicole Bakalars said. “I have high expectations for my team this year and I tell them that often,” Bakalars said. Senior Claire Mosher, a Marquette recruit, was called on often as a hitter last year, but it’s likely she will return to setting more this season. Mosher “is a threat as a passer, setter and hitter,” Belleville coach Kelsey Schmit said. Other key personnel for Waterloo include senior libero Grace Meyer, freshman outside hitter Joslyn Wolff and freshman Brooke Mosher, Claire Mosher’s sister who can play setter, outside hitter and right-side hitter. Brooke Mosher is receiving NCAA Division I interest, Bakalars said.

Marshall ousted top-seeded Waterloo in a WIAA Division 3 regional final last year and reached the sectional semifinal, falling to Oshkosh Lourdes. Cardinals coach Christina Schmitz has nine letterwinners returning, led by junior outside hitter Bailey Neuberger (99 kills, 148 digs).

Belleville surged from zero conference victories in 2015 to seven last season and tied Waterloo for second place. “We made a name for ourselves again,” Belleville coach Kelsey Schmit said. “We made it to regional finals, which hasn’t been done in years. It was a very successful season and the culture of Belleville volleyball is changing for the better.” Prominent players returning are 6-2 middle blocker Rachael Heittola (150 kills, 88 blocks last year), outside hitter Jade Halvensleben, libero Sydney Gentilli and setter Sam Trainor.

ROCK VALLEY CONFERENCE

East Troy, McFarland, Edgerton, Jefferson and Walworth Big Foot are expected to battle it out in the Rock Valley.

McFarland coach Trish Fortune, who topped 300 victories for her career last season (323-197-11 in 17 years at McFarland), returns a strong team led by senior outside hitter/middle blocker Katie Rounds (kills leader last year), senior libero Sophie Quelle, junior right-side hitter Ashley East, junior outside hitter/middle blocker Izzy Grassl, senior utility player Gabi Runde and senior defensive specialist Morgan Richter. Sophomore Lizzy Fortune will be one of the team’s setters.

Senior outside hitter Ashlyn Oren, a standout in track and field, will lead the offensive attack for Edgerton. Oren and her cousin, senior middle blocker Bethany Oren, are set to start their fourth year as starters. Senior Jessica Danks moves from right-side hitter to setter, freshman Carly Rebman debuts as an outside hitter and senior Nikkia Johnson will play libero. Sharon Fox takes over as coach, replacing Mike Schmidt.

SOUTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE 

Wisconsin Dells came on strong in the second half of conference play last season, giving coach Tami Janke optimism for this year as the Chiefs bid for the league crown. Notable returning players include senior setter Jenna Mace, junior outside hitter Caelan Tourdot and 6-1 junior middle blocker Jamie Pfeifer. Junior right-side hitter Katelyn Meister and freshman outside hitter Brooke Hartley also are expected to contribute.

ELSEWHERE

Dodgeville coach Scott Garthwaite has better depth due to an influx of young talent this season and hopes to challenge Platteville, Richland Center and River Valley for top spots in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference. Seniors Ellie Argall, Alyssa Belling and Sara Mae Polinag should lead Dodgeville. Outside hitter/setter Madison Stumpf returns after missing last year with a knee injury and could be a major contributor, Garthwaite said. Garthwaite said Dodgeville (12-15) had its best record in nine years in 2016 and is “looking to continue that upward trend.”

Coach Lisa Roelke said her River Valley team, which has seven letterwinners, is young. “I think that the talent is there,” Roelke said. “We just need to work extremely hard as a team right now to build our on-court chemistry and confidence.” Leading the way will be sophomore setter Ali Hoffman, senior outside hitter Carmen Hood, 5-11 sophomore outside hitter Tienna Gruber, 5-11 junior middle hitter Emily Briehl, senior right-side hitter Marissa Anderson, senior defensive specialist Shelby Gilbertson and freshman middle hitter Alicyn Stephens.

In the Six Rivers East, eight letterwinners return for Barneveld coach Doug Pickarts, led by his daughter, senior setter/outside hitter Taryn Pickarts, who’s starting her third season varsity, and senior middle hitter/right-side hitter Brooklyn Hogan-Weir. Other key contributors will be seniors Jessica Walker, Courtney Skaife, Jenna Spring, Kennedy Barsness and Jamie Kelly and sophomores Britney Straubhaar and Macy Doescher. Doug Pickarts hopes his team will finish in the top half of the conference and can challenge the top teams, such as Argyle and Black Hawk.

In the SWAL, Mineral Point coach Nicole Henke said it will be a rebuilding year after losing eight seniors off last season’s team.

In the Trailways West Conference, Tammy Heck is the new coach at Pardeeville, which returns seven letterwinners and three starters. In the Trailways South, senior outside hitter Taylor Thompson and senior libero Cristina Ingwell, both four-year varsity players, will lead the Madison Abundant Life/St. Ambrose team, coached by Becca Mast.

KEY POSTSEASON DATES

WIAA regionals — Oct., 17, 19 and 21, various sites.

WIAA sectionals — Oct. 26 and 28, various sites.

WIAA state tournament — Nov. 2-4, Resch Center, Ashwaubenon.

— Jon Masson