The play of senior Brooke Walling was one of the biggest bright spots for Mauston in a season where the Golden Eagles finished 9-20 overall and 4-6 in conference play.
For her efforts, Walling was a unanimous selection to the South Central all-conference team released last week.
“It means a lot, knowing that the four years in high school that I played volleyball finally paid off,” Walling said of making the all-conference team. “That all the work I put into the program, knowing that it paid off. Even though my first year on varsity wasn’t as successful, my sophomore year — to work hard and continue (playing), it just meant so much.”
While she was honored by the accolade, Walling was particularly proud of how much progress her team was able to make over the course of the season.
“As a whole, our team improved so much from when we started to when we finished,” she said. “When we started, we had a certain skill set and we worked really hard to improve it. … We had a really successful season and I’m proud of our team and how far we’ve come.”
Joining Walling on the first team was Adams-Friendship’s Brooke Livingston, Nekoosa’s Jenna Baker, Wautoma’s Maddy Weisensel and Wisconsin Dells’s Caelan Tourdot and Jenna Mace. Walling, Livingston, Baker, Weisensel and Tourdot were all unanimous selections.
Baker, Tourdot, Weisensel and Mace were all first-team picks last year as well, while Livingston was a second-team selection. Baker also made the first team in 2015, and Mace was named to the second team that year.
In addition to making her third consecutive first-team appearance, Baker was also named the South Central Conference player of the year. She finished the season with a 39.3 percent hitting percentage, 324 kills, a 59.6 percent kill percentage, 39 service aces and 67 total blocks.
“I haven’t heard of anybody from Nekoosa (winning player of the year), so it was pretty cool,” Baker said. “It was really exciting. My sister and brother were really excited for me and told me.”
Baker was also thrilled with the progress the Papermakers have made during her four years with Nekoosa, especially over this past season.
“The season was really good, especially compared to years past,” she said. “We finished last in conference last year and we came back this year and got second.”
“The program has come a long way. We’ve been through different coaches, and that made it hard, but this year we kept our attitude positive and that’s what made us play our best.”
Baker will be attending the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire next year, where she says she will try out for the school’s volleyball team.
Wisconsin Dells led all teams with four all-conference selections following a season where the Chiefs won their ninth South Central Conference title in the last 10 years. They had previously captured eight straight conference championships from 2008 to 2015 before having the streak snapped with a third-place finish last season.
However, the Chiefs returned to their winning ways with a 10-0 record in SCC play this year and will return three of their four all-conference players for 2018. In fact, Wisconsin Dells only loses two players from this year’s team to graduation.
“We were really young last year,” said Wisconsin Dells head coach Tamitha Janke. “Everyone had graduated the year prior. So this year, the big difference was I had experience on the court. I started juniors and one senior, primarily. When you have experience on the court, it makes life a little easier.”
Janke is hopeful the additional experience from this past season will aid the Chiefs, who haven’t made it to the state tournament since winning the Class B state title in 1984, next year as they look to win another SCC title and make a deep playoff run.
“It’s going to hurt us a lot to lose Jenna Mace,” she said. “She’s a three-time all-conference player, so that’s going to hurt anybody. But hopefully we did enough with other things that we have people that can step into her role.”
“We’re really excited for next year because, basically, they all come back. Most all of them now have two years of varsity experience and are starting to get it, as far as the ‘this is how we play the game to win’ concept goes.”
Behind the Chiefs, Nekoosa finished second in the SCC with an 8-2 conference record. Mauston and Wautoma tied for third at 4-6. Adams-Friendship went 3-7 to finish fifth and Westfield Area was 1-9 to end up in sixth.