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Sophomore outside hitter Brittanie Paulus was named Player of the Year, headlining a number of awards earned by the Lakeland College women's volleyball team, as the Northern Athletics Conference post-season awards were announced Monday.
Paulus (Belgium/Ozaukee), who was also named First Team All-NAC in addition to the top player honors, led the Muskies on both offense and defense in numerous contests this season. She finished with a team-high 342 kills, good for ninth in the NAC, and was second in digs with 426.
"I was very surprised when I found out," Paulus said. "I knew my name was going to be thrown out there for Player of the Year, but didn't think I really had the stats for it."
Schreiber agrees that Paulus' stats were not particularly eye-catching, but stresses how much she contributed to the team in other ways.
"I am incredibly pleased for Brittanie because I didn't think her stats showed her value to our team," Schreiber said. "I think most of our team would say that they learn a certain toughness and demeanor to have on the court from her. I'm glad the conference recognized that, and I think it's awesome for her that the conference coaches feel the same way about her that I do."
Senior outside hitter Ashley Domask (Hortonville/Xavier) and junior setter Jessica Sparling (Addison, Ill./Addison Trail) also received All-NAC honors, while senior middle hitter Shelly Bruni (Juneau/Lakeside Lutheran) was a Second Team All-NAC selection.
Domask played a vital role in the Muskies' offensive and defensive schemes this season, as she was second on the team in kills with 325 and third in digs with 349. She closes out a successful career with 817 kills and cracked Lakeland's record books with 1,060 digs, good for fifth all-time.
"It's nice for Ashley to go out on a high note and prove what we saw very early in her career as to the type of player she is," Schreiber said.
Sparling, who was an All-NAC selection in 2006, continued to help run the squad's deadly attack at the net, racking up 1,030 assists in 2007, earning her the No. 3 spot in the NAC.
"Jess Sparling was recognized for being the best setter in the conference," Schreiber said. "Not many setters have the ability to be an attacker and a blocker in addition to setting the way she does. Her multi-skill package put her on the all-conference team."
Bruni was a major anchor in the middle for the squad this season, coming up with big numbers in games where the team needed her most. She finished fourth in the NAC with a .281 hitting percentage, and got her name in the record books for third-highest hitting percentage in a match with an impressive .706 effort in a win over Milwaukee School of Engineering in October. She was also second on the team in blocks with 93 and third in kills with 247.
"I'm disappointed not to see her on First Team because her performance this year was so valuable to us," Schreiber said. "If there was someone who could ignite our team with energy by making one or two types of plays, it was usually Shelly."
Schreiber was named the NAC Coach of the Year, as selected by his peers. His squad ran the table on the conference this season, finishing with a perfect 12-0 record, then won its first NAC Tournament title this past Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Benedictine University. This is the fourth time Schreiber has been awarded the conference Coach of the Year honor, as he received the award three times while coaching in the former Lake Michigan Conference.
"Not to belittle the award, but I would gladly trade it to be sitting in the NCAA Tournament today," Schreiber said. "I'll be more likely to remember that we had four girls on the All-Conference team this year."
In spite of a successful season capped by a conference championship, the Muskies will end their season at 23-14 overall after they learned this weekend they did not receive a berth in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The NAC is not eligible for an automatic NCAA Tournament berth until next year, and Lakeland did not receive one of four Pool B bids, which are reserved for institutions in conferences that do not meet the requirements for an automatic bid.
"You're not supposed to end with just the regular season when you have a great year, go undefeated in your conference and win the conference tournament," Schreiber said. "It doesn't feel right."
Looking back, Paulus was proud of what she and her teammates accomplished this season, in spite of feeling disappointed that Lakeland did not make the cut for the NCAA Tournament.
"At the end of the season we took care of business," Paulus said. "It was exciting to go through the season undefeated in this conference for the first time, but I wish we would have done what we needed to do earlier in the season to get into the NCAA Tournament."
However, Schreiber and his squad can look back on the 2007 season as a major step in the right direction, as the Muskies proved they could compete with nationally-ranked teams, defeating then-No. 17 Stevens Institute last weekend.
"In terms of team chemistry and off-court behavior, this team was a pleasure to coach," Schreiber said. "I got to be a volleyball coach this year. I have the label of being a hard coach, and I was probably as hard or harder on this team than any other team I have coached. I did it because I knew how little room for error we had being a Pool B squad, and I didn't want this team to be left short. I think we learned that, although we learned it too late."