Men's volleyball season preview: Schreiber's squad looks to repeat championship performance
Athletics - posted on 1/26/2009
Winning a national championship is tough enough. Imagine the challenge of trying to win back-to-back national crowns.
That's the task at hand for veteran coach Chad Schreiber and his Lakeland men's volleyball team for the 2009 season.
Last season, the Muskies went down to Dallas, Texas, and fought their way to a Division I National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) championship. Lakeland (52-8 overall record) defeated Illinois, a team that had beaten the Muskies three times in previous contests that season, in the final match.
"We were very healthy going into the national final, we had gained some momentum in the weeks leading up to it and we had a good mix of youthful players and guys who were desperate in their last year of eligibility to play," Schreiber said. "It really just all fit into place at the right time. Dallas was a great experience for us, on and off the court."
Schreiber believes that while expectations are high for the No. 12 Muskies, the less talk there is of winning a national championship this season, the better.
"We know we want to be in the mix of teams at the end of the year again that are nationally ranked," Schreiber said. "But to say that we want to win another national championship or should win another national championship, there's no talk of that right now. We need to just improve fast, and see how good this new line-up will look when it plays together."
Despite the loss of 2008 NIRSA Player of the Year Matt Martin at outside hitter, as well as three other starters, setter Matt Clemens, libero Shawn Voelz and right side hitter Andrew Lietz, a talented, experienced group returns for Lakeland.
Senior outside hitter Joe Julkowski, a four-year starter, will be one of the team's captains. The Carol Stream, Ill., native captured first-team All-America honors, and was also named to the All-Wisconsin Volleyball Conference (WVC) squad and the All-Midwest 10 team. The 6-foot-4 Julkowski led the Muskies with 56 service aces last season and is the team's returning leader in digs (272).
Even as one of the team's top passers and servers, Julkowski was often overshadowed by Martin's play on the opposite side. However, Lakeland players and coaches knew how important Julkowski was to the team's attack.
"Every year, Joe's game has gotten significantly better," Schreiber said. "What Joe's really stepped up in, in the last year, is he went from a young player following the lead to a mature player with captain-like qualities that people like to follow. He's become a leader that our team has willingly followed both on and off the court."
Avdo Omerbegovic, a first-team All-America middle hitter,
also returns to the starting line-up. A 6-7 senior, Omerbegovic is a high-energy player had a .348 hitting percentage to go along with 208 kills in 2008. The Chicago native, who is a captain along with Julkowski, also earned All-WVC mention a year ago.
"Avdo makes other teams change what they want to do defensively, because he can attack out of every zone, he's a good blocker and he draws a lot of attention," Schreiber said. "When teams watch us play, Avdo is usually one of the first people they comment on, because he is involved in every match somehow."
Senior Jared Rohland also returns as a starting middle hitter for the Muskies. The Fort Atkinson native received second-team All-America accolades a season ago, and led the team in kills (391) and hitting percentage (.402). The All-WVC player is an athletic presence at 6-6, and is one of Lakeland's top offensive threats.
"He hits shots that very few people are able to hit," Schreiber said. "He likes offense, and he's good at it, but it was his blocking at the end of last year that helped us win."
Chris Kubacki, a right side hitter from Vernon Hills, Ill., split time last year at the position with Lietz. The 6-4 sophomore is poised to start this season, and is capable of playing multiple positions.
"We trained Chris at middle hitter, right side hitter and setter last year, and now we're training him at right side and setter," Schreiber said. "We know he can play right side and we feel he's not far away from being able to play as a setter."
A pair of freshman are set to start immediately for the Muskies. Mitch Wiskirchen (6-1, Schaumburg, Ill.), the younger brother of Nick Wiskirchen, a senior defensive specialist, will start at setter for Lakeland. Andrew Cheever (5-7, Milwaukee) will start in the back for the Muskies at libero.
The final starting spot, at outside hitter, is still up for grabs. While sophomore Marko Grgic (6-1, Chicago) has seen most of the minutes in the preseason, Schreiber also believes junior Perry Ringfelt (6-0, Elwood, Ill.) and freshman Chris Guimon (6-3, Bartlett, Ill.) are capable of stepping in at the spot.
Schreiber will look to his bench to spell the starters as well.
At middle hitter, sophomore Beau Bradshaw (6-6, Oak Lawn, Ill.) was the Most Valuable Player in last year's state junior varsity tournament, which Lakeland won. Senior Chris Plamann (6-6, Appleton) is also capable of contributing at the position.
Junior Dan Judkins (Kaukauna), a 6-4 junior transfer from Fox Valley Technical College, will back Kubacki up at right side hitter.
Lakeland's 2009 schedule is highlighted by conference matches in the WVC as well as Midwest-10 and Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournaments, which feature the top Division I teams from around the Midwest.
Several teams in the WVC could challenge for the league title. In addition to Lakeland, UW-Oshkosh, Marquette and UW-Whitewater have been regulars in the national tournament in the past five years. All four teams are ranked in the top 30 of the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) Division I preseason rankings.
Lakeland captured the WVC Tournament championship after splitting the regular season title with UW-Oshkosh.
"I'm glad there are a lot more teams that have raised their game in the last couple years," Schreiber said. "Our conference has always been competitive at the top, but now I think we're getting deeper again. I'm excited about how good the WVC looks like it's going to be this year."
The biggest tournament of the year for Lakeland, according to Schreiber, will be the annual Hoosier-Illini Classic, which takes place on Feb. 21-22 in Bloomington, Ind. Schreiber estimated that half of the nation's top 25 teams participate in this tournament.
Based on last year's experience, Lakeland players and coaches are excited at the prospect of going back to the national tournament, which will be played in Kansas City, Mo., on April 9-11.
The motivation is there for the Muskies, who begin the season this Tuesday, Jan. 27, at UW-Whitewater.
"Right now, our guys are so self-motivated based on the positive experience of last year," Schreiber said. "That feeling of being in big matches and playing in important tournaments and things is an addictive feeling. Once you do that and are successful at it, that's what motivates you."
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