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Following an offseason dominated by change, the Muskies look to start fresh in 2011 under the leadership of interim head coach Jon Staabs. Staabs was promoted from the assistant coach position following the resignation of longtime head coach Chad Schreiber.
The Muskies come off a season where they didn't meet their expectations, finishing tied for ninth in the Northern Athletics Conference with a 4-8 record and missing the conference tournament by one game. Lakeland finished 8-23 overall.
Staabs will be looking to three-year starter and senior captain Allison Davis (Sheboygan, Wis.) to be his coach on the court. Last season Davis led the Muskies with 271 kills, averaging 2.56 kills per game, as well as leading at the net with 87 blocks, 0.82 per game.
"Allison is on cruise control at a high level," said Staabs. "She is able to help me teach the girls what is expected of them and gives them an example to follow. She is a great leader on and off the court, and I expect her to be a big motivator this season."
The only other upperclassman for the Muskies this season is junior Taylor Daus (Green Bay, Wis.). Taylor is in her third season with the Muskies, and in limited action last season she averaged 1.21 kills per game and 1.87 digs per game, second on the team.
"Taylor has been in the program for a few years now and knows what is expected," said Staabs. "Like Allison, Taylor allows me to help develop the younger girls and to help hold their teammates accountable. She's a high energy player and will be the catalyst for us this year."
Sophomore Brittany Reindel (Kenosha, Wis.) looks to step in at setter and fill the shoes of 2010 all-NAC Honorable Mention honoree Kristine Raeder (Sheboygan Falls, Wis.). Reindel got some experience behind Raeder last season, averaging 3.21 sets and 1.59 digs per game. "Brittany has the best hands on the team and she understands the offense," said Staabs. "She has the talent to do great things."
With a lack of depth on the Muskies' roster, some players may be asked to play out of position and to be versatile to fit the team's needs. Unfortunately, there are no position battles to push the girls to improve; however, after the teams' struggles last season, everyone is extra motivated to succeed.
Staabs is looking to sophomores Melissa Christiansen (Valders, Wis.) and Katie Freitag (Kiel, Wis.) to step up and play key roles. Christiansen is returning from a shoulder injury that forced her to miss all of last season. Freitag had a good freshman campaign averaging 1.57 kills 1.59 digs, and 0.36 blocks per game, and she'll see increased playing time this fall.
"Melissa will be a huge asset for this team," said Staabs. "She's a very versatile player that does everything well. We missed that ability last season and she will be a solid addition this season."
With a young team, Staabs understands his expectations need to be realistic, however, he also knows that the girls learned from their struggles and were a dangerous team at the end of the season.
"We were in a lot of games last year, but we were young," said Staabs. "I think the girls have learned from last season and know what it takes to win those matches."
To hear what Staabs has to say about his transition into the head coaching role and helping his young team, click here.
The Muskies open on the road this weekend when they take part in the UW-Whitewater Invitational. Their first match is Friday at 4:30 p.m. against St. Norbert College, followed by a contest against host University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at 7 p.m. Lakeland finishes the Invitational with two matches on Saturday against Wheaton College (9 a.m.) and Alma Col1ege (1 p.m.)
"This team is very talented, they just need to play together," said Staabs. "I feel like we are playing the underdog role this year, which puts less pressure on us as a team, and I feel like we can surprise a few people."
The Muskies will play in four other tournaments this season: two tournaments at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the Pizza Hut Classic Sept. 9-10 and the UW-Oshkosh Invite Sept. 16-17, the Red Hawk Invitation at Ripon College on Sept. 23-24 and the Eagle Classic at Benedictine University on Oct. 29. Lakeland's NAC opener is Sept. 13 at the Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.
The NAC tournament begins Nov. 1, with the championship game set for Nov. 5. The winner earns the NAC's automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA III tournament.