Men's Volleyball Looks to Earn National Title: 2007 Season Outlook
Athletics - posted on 1/30/2007
The goal for the Lakeland College men's volleyball team this season seems simple - win a national championship.
Last year's squad, seeded seventh in the national tournament, finished ninth at the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) National Tournament, defeating Dayton, Rhode Island, Central Florida and Ohio State before falling to a No. 15 Navy squad in a close match, then dropping a match with No. 5 Illinois to end the season with a 43-12-3 record.
Although it may seem incredible to many to see Lakeland slugging it out with the likes of Illinois or Ohio State, it does not make much of an impression on head coach Chad Schreiber.
"I thought we were one of the top four teams in the country last year," he said. "I was happy with our talent and the way we were playing volleyball at the end of last year, but it was a frustrating and disappointing end. We lost to Illinois in a close match, who we were evenly matched with. We beat them earlier in the season, but we weren't supposed to play them as early as we played them because we lost to Navy."
Despite some disappointment over last year's finish, Schreiber can garner confidence in the number of seasoned starters the squad returns. The Muskies return all of their offensive power in seniors Adam Plach (Hanover Park, Ill./Hoffman Estates), a middle hitter, and outside hitter Matt Martin (Schaumburg, Ill./Conant). Martin was an Honorable Mention All-American last season and was named the team's Most Valuable Player, as he led the squad in kills with 460 for the season.
Junior middle hitters Jared Rohland (Fort Atkinson/Fort Atkinson) and Avdo Omerbegovic (Chicago, Ill./Amundsen) are also key returnees as Omerbegovic led the squad in blocks with 137 and was second in kills with 307. Rohland turned up the heat at Nationals last year to record double-digits in kills in three separate matches.
Also returning as starters are sophomore outside hitter Joe Julkowski (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North) and senior defensive specialist Erich Steinhaus (Mundelein, Ill./Vernon Hills). Julkowski adds depth to the Muskies' already deadly offensive arsenal, finishing with 299 kills last year, while Steinhaus should provide a boost in the back row, as he led the team in digs last year at 240.
"Right now it appears our team chemistry and team focus are better than they have ever been," Schreiber said. "I think the guys on the floor now as returning starters are very focused and have a better idea of where they will be playing this year.
"Adam and Jared moved back and forth between outside, right side and middle last year. Now we have settled with Jared in the middle and Adam as our right side hitter. The fact they are returning to a position they know has them focused. I think there are a lot of guys that are going to make sure we stay headed in the right direction this year and should provide some leadership."
Although the Muskies will miss last year's starting setter Mike Smolinski, who now helps coach the squad, sophomore Matt Clemens (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) has adjusted to the starting role and will likely share time with fellow sophomore Joe Sanabria (Chicago, Ill./Lane Tech).
"Joe will also see some time as our setter," Schreiber said. "He was our starting setter in the pre-season, so we know he can play."
Also vying for playing time will be juniors Tim Frillman (Lincolnshire, Ill./Stevenson), a middle hitter, defensive specialist Shawn Voelz (Elk Grove, Ill./Elk Grove), and right side hitter Andrew Lietz (Thiensville/Homestead).
"I think Shawn Voeltz will be able to contribute more than he did a year ago," Schreiber said. "He always had the demeanor to contribute; he just got in a slump that was unexplainable. Tim Frillman has always been valuable to our team as a reserve, but has not seen court time for it. I think this year he'll see court time because he is at a level with most of our starters talent-wise."
As the Muskies return so many experienced players, Schreiber anticipates they will not look far down the bench for contributions, which will give incoming freshmen outside hitter Spenser Jasutis (Elk Grove, Ill./Elk Grove) and utility Tyler Theisfeldt (Green Bay/Bay Port) a season to develop and add depth to the varsity reserve squad.
"We didn't bring in a real big freshman class and because of the large returning group that will be getting playing time, the freshmen are going to fill supporting roles right now," Schreiber said.
As Lakeland returns so many offensive threats, it is no surprise that the squad expects their attack to be the strongest part of their game.
"Offense and our ability to adjust our play on both offense and defense will be our strengths," Schreiber said. "We have multi-talented players that can play different styles when we need them to. What makes us strong offensively is that we can do anything we want. We have the ability to adjust to any team's defense because we have offense from every person in every position on the floor. We're a team that if people want to watch offense, they're going to want to watch the way we play volleyball this year."
The Muskies will also look to match their strength on defense to their offensive abilities, although Schreiber is pleased with how the squad improved some of their defensive skills in the off-season.
"Defensively the guys have grown in their blocking," he said. "Defense always starts with blocking, but blocking is mostly instinctual and then it can be refined. I don't know if we have a lot of natural blockers on this team, but they have done a lot of work at refining that skill. Defense will not be a weak spot for us, but how much of a strength it will be is yet to be seen."
The Muskies are currently off to a 3-0 start in the Wisconsin Volleyball Conference with commanding victories over UW-Whitewater, UW-La Crosse and UW-Stout last week. However, they have yet to face some of the stronger members, including UW-Oshkosh and Marquette.
"UW-Oshkosh and Marquette will be strong again," Schreiber said. "UW-La Crosse also has good players and is starting to put together a good team. We play in the toughest place to play volleyball in the country. We're in two difference conferences (Wisconsin Volleyball Conference and Midwest 10), and both Marquette and UW-Oshkosh are in those same two conferences. The three of us have finished one, two, three, in both of those conferences the last two years. Marquette won the National Championship two years ago and Oshkosh won last year, so now we're thinking it's our turn."
Lakeland competes in two different conferences in order to participate in the MIVA tournament, taking place at the end of March, which includes top teams from around the country in a tournament conference. The Muskies will play two Midwest 10 tournament dates to seed the teams in that conference, then they will get together with the other two conferences (Big 10 and Great West) for the MIVA Championships.
"You play in the Midwest Championships based on your conference finish," Schreiber said. "The top three or four teams in the conference go to the gold bracket of the Midwest Championships, the middle teams go to the silver bracket, etc. You have to finish high within your own conference to have a chance to win the championship."
The Muskies' other conference, the WVC, is a traditional conference with home and away dual matches.
Although the Muskies have set a big goal for this season, they have a few hurdles to conquer before those dreams can become a reality.
"There is a great deal of parity as to who is among the top four teams in the nation," Schreiber said. "I see teams equal to us that probably have as good a shot to win as we do, but I can only hope we are one of the top teams at the end of the season. It's going to come down to who's playing good at that time of year and who's healthy in the right matches.
"I'd also like to improve our serving. It should be a strength for us because we have the natural ability to be servers, but for whatever reason we haven't crossed that hurdle mentally to make it a strength of ours. It sounds simple, but it might be our serving that determines whether we are the top team in the country or not because if we have to back off on our serves in order to not miss, that's not going to help us."
As strong as the Muskies were last year, Schreiber expects experience, teamwork and maturity to help make his 2007 squad even more threatening than last year's.
"I'm really pleased with the way the team is coming together in terms of chemistry," he said. "We had some distractions last year that don't appear to be there right now. I'm much more relaxed heading into this season because I don't feel we have any issues or that we are approaching any issues. I feel right now we're approaching winning and losing. We're not worrying about anything other than playing volleyball right now, which is nice."
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