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The Lakeland College men's volleyball team will conclude its Wisconsin Volleyball Conference regular season schedule with the 16th annual WVC State Championship on April 4-5 hosted by UW-La Crosse in La Crosse, Wis.
Match play will take place on Friday and early Saturday to finish of each school's WVC regular season schedule. Tournament play will follow, concluding with the varsity championship match at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Lakeland College and UW-Oshkosh currently sit tied in the WVC standings with identical 11-1 records going into the championship. If the Muskies take all four of their remaining pool play matches to finish off the regular season, they should earn the No. 1 seed heading into tournament play. The squad would also clinch its second consecutive WVC regular season title and put it in the position to also take its second-ever WVC Tournament crown. Lakeland will likely have to get by Oshkosh first, but after falling to the Titans four times early on in the season the Muskies have been able to win the last two matches.
"Since we beat Oshkosh the last two times we have played them, we proved that we have finally gotten over that hump," said head coach Chad Schreiber. "Winning those first four matches will give us our second consecutive regular season title, then it's a matter of putting everything together in the tournament."
The results of this season's WVC Tournament also carry additional weight for the Muskies, as the outcome will influence Lakeland's seeding in the upcoming NIRSA National Tournament on April 10-12 in Dallas, Tex.
"Winning the conference tournament would likely give us a top five seed in the national tournament, possibly as high as No. 2," Schreiber said. "We need everyone to play well in the big matches. If we even have just one or two guys not playing their best against Oshkosh, Marquette, UW-La Crosse or UW-Whitewater, we could be in trouble. We are the top team along with Oshkosh, but a close third is Marquette, La Crosse and Whitewater, so we have to be sharp right away."
The Muskies claimed a national runner-up finish last year after falling to the Titans in the national championship match, and are led by left side hitter Matt Martin, the reigning WVC MVP. The squad is also strong across the net, returning WVC First Team middle blockers Jared Rohland and Avdo Omerbegovic and Honorable Mention outside hitter Joe Julkowski. Last season, Martin and Rohland were named NIRSA Division I First-Team All-American and setter Matt Clemens received a second-team nod. Martin was also named an All-American Honorable Mention selection in 2006.
However, UW-Oshkosh, the two-time defending NIRSA Division I national champions, will still have their sights set on snagging their sixth WVC title. The Titans claimed titles in 1997-2000, 2004 and 2006 and are led by returning WVC First Team selections John Erickson (right side hitter), Danny Hessling (middle blocker) and Nathan Sederberg (left side hitter). Aaron Wayne, the 2006 WVC Libero of the Year patrols the back court for the Titans.
UW-Whitewater, UW-La Crosse, Marquette University, UW-Platteville, Carthage College, UW-Stout and UW-Stevens Point complete the list of teams also participating in the tournament. Whitewater is currently in third place in the WVC with an 8-4 record, followed by La Crosse in fourth at 7-4. Platteville sits in fifth place at 5-6, followed by Marquette in sixth at 4-8, Carthage in seventh at 3-9, Stout in eighth at 3-8 and Stevens Point in ninth at 0-11.
Marquette University looks to regain its hold on the WVC state championship after winning the NIRSA Division I national title in 2005 and sweeping both the WVC regular season and state tournament titles.
Know for their tenacious defense, the Golden Eagles are led first by the net play of middle blocker Matt Lane, a WVC First-Team honoree last season. Marquette University's offensive is anchored by outside hitters Rick Meyer and Mike Russ and right side hitter John Gasteiner. The Golden Eagles are three-time WVC State Champions, also winning the title in 1996 and 2002.
UW-Whitewater, returning to the national tournament this season after a one-year hiatus, looks to first capture its third WVC State Championship. The Warhawks have returned to the national scene with a strong core of upperclassmen leadership led by 2006 WVC First Team left side hitter Tim Seidel and 2007 WVC Honorable Mention left side hitter Mike Ziegel.
UW-La Crosse hopes to ride the momentum of hosting the WVC State Championship to a title this season after winning their only crown on their home court in 2001. The play of left side hitter Charlie Veldre, a 2007 NIRSA Division II All-American Honorable Mention and WVC First-Team selection, will certainly define how well the Eagles do. Newcomer Eric Neuens runs La Crosse's offense from the setting position with experienced players Alex Cloutier (right side hitter) and J.D. Shaw (libero) guiding the team on offense and defense, respectively.
UW-Platteville, Carthage College, UW-Stout and UW-Stevens Point will also be looking to pull some surprises in the tournament.
"All indications are that we're ready, and we know what we have to do," Schreiber said of heading into the tournament. "At this point in the season we know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and it's just a matter of going out and executing."