After capturing the last two South Central Conference titles, the Wisconsin Dells volleyball team stands on uneven ground entering the 2019 season.
The Lady Chiefs return just five varsity players from last year’s team, a majority of which were role players behind a talented eight-player senior class lost to graduation. Despite the significant losses, head coach Tami Janke believes the mix of talented young players and experienced veterans can net a third consecutive league championship.
“We have some sophomores on the floor, but they just don’t have that confidence quite yet but improving daily,” said Janke, who is entering her fourth season in charge. “We’re just trying to get them to mesh with the juniors and seniors, it’s a challenge but they’re coming along and I’m excited.”
Wisconsin Dells, which went 20-15 last year overall and 9-1 in South Central Conference play, has plenty of production to replace. Among the group was five All-SCC selections, including Player of the Year Caelan Toudot, and four of the team’s top attackers that tallied 659 of the team’s 831 kills, as well as the team’s top four blockers.
With significant losses along the front line, Janke said that the Dells will be playing a different style of volleyball this season. One hold over from last year’s starting rotation is Brooke Hartley. The junior setter led the Lady Chiefs with 279 assists last season while adding 193 digs and will again be integral to the team’s success.
“She is by far our floor leader, which is what you need from a setter,” Janke said.
On the receiving end of Hartley’s passes to the outside are senior Addi Platt and junior Alanna Wilson. Both girls saw some time last season as role players but will be turned to more often this season.
Janke noted that Platt has been working to fill Tourdot’s shoes and eventhough “those are big shoes to fill, she’s been working really hard to do it,” while Wilson returns with experience.
“She got some varsity time, not consistently, but she was with the team and that helped to develop her skill for this year,” Janke added.
Taking over command at middle blocker the Lady Chiefs will turn to the sophomore duo of Sophia Venne and Angela Grant. Venne stands at 6-foot-2 while Grant comes in at 5-11, helping to replace the loss of three 6-2 middle blockers from last season, while sophomore Hana Jo Griefenhagen adds depth on the outside.
Helping to anchor the backline will be libero Abigail Flock. The senior saw minutes as a defensive specialist last season and after sitting behind All-SCC pick Kennedy Hickey the last two seasons is ready to take on a larger role.
“She had that on her plate and planned the last two years to be Kennedy’s replacement and has done a nice job doing that,” Janke said.
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Also in the back the team will rely on senior Miranda Rau, junior Kristina Warren and sophomores Shelby Bartz, Shea Armstrong and Maddie Jones. Among the group, Janke has been impressed with Jones so far, who is entering just her second year of volleyball after playing football as a freshman.
“She’s taken over a starting position as of right now, is owning it and doing a phenomenal job,” Janke said.
With only three seniors, Janke said that the sophomore class will be relied upon heavily. So far she said the group has been doing a phenomenal job, especially “knowing this void they have to fill.”
With so much unknown the defense will be a work in progress for the Chiefs in the early going, while Janke noted the team’s camaraderie as one of its strengths. That togetherness should be crucial as the Dells aims to keep its SCC crown. With new coaches at both Wautoma and Westfield, as well a plethora of experience back at Mauston, Janke expects this to be a wide open race.
“There are going to be some wins and loss, and who knows, the last match of the season might determine who the conference champion is,” she said. “I think our conference this year is going to be more competitive than it has been, and we’re going to have to work hard to earn in. It’s really going to come down to how we are every night.”
Wisconsin Dells opens league play with a home match against Adams-Friendship on Sept. 10.
Lady Chiefs go 3-4 at Friendship Tournament
It was an up-and-down start for Wisconsin Dells at its season-opening Friendship Tournament at JustAgame Fieldhouse on Aug. 29 and 30.
The Lady Chiefs went 3-4 in the two-day, 24-team tournament, finishing in fifth place in the silver bracket. Wisconsin Dells split its four pool play matches on Day 1, knocking off Bruce in straight sets 25-10, 25-19, before falling to Holmen (25-18, 27-25) in its second match of the opening pool.
In the second grouping, Wisconsin Dells again opened with a win, defeating Oshkosh North (25-16, 25-16), only to fall to Royall (25-16, 25-21). It was a difficult start to Day 2 for Wisconsin Dells as it was rolled over by Kewaskum, 25-13, 25-12, in its opening match.
The Chiefs responded by defeating Dodgeland in three sets (25-19, 26-28, 15-8), but lost their final match to Hustisford in three sets (21-25, 25-22, 15-8). Venne led the way for the Chiefs with 29 kills and six blocks over the two days, while Wilson added 25 putaways.
Flock had a team-high 88 digs, while Hartley led the way with 77 assists and Bartz tallied 10 aces.