PLAYERS TO WATCH
Drew Collins, 6-2, sr., Madison Memorial: Earned All-Big Eight honorable mention last fall after helping the Spartans take second in the league standings.
Kraymer Gladem, sr., Fort Atkinson: “Will probably be one of the top three players in conference this year,” Middleton coach Ben White said. Gladem was a second-team All-Big Eight pick last year.
Chase Korb, 6-0, jr, OH, Madison Edgewood/Country Day: “A great all-around player, good hitter, great hands for blocking and a lot of effort,” Edgewood coach Karl Hubbard said. “
Nicolas Rauwolf, 6-0, sr., L, Madison Memorial: A first-team All-Big Eight pick last year, Rauwolf returns to serve as the Spartans’ quarterback. “Nicolas is probably going to be the best libero in conference,” Madison East coach Matt Filteau said.
Nick Stott, 6-1, jr., S, Middleton: Led Middleton last year with 99 assists and added 53 digs and 13 service aces. “Should be the best setter in conference,” Madison East coach Matt Filteau said.
Parker Van Buren, 6-7, sr., OH, Middleton: Coach Ben White calls Van Buren “one of the most highly recruited players in the country.” The first-team all-conference and second-team All-State player recorded 359 kills, 135 digs, 30 blocks and 23 service aces last year. Will team with Scott Buros to form what “could be one of the best duos in the state at the outside position,” White said, adding that Van Buren “has a chance to be one of the best the area has produced.”
THINGS TO WATCH
Middleton again: Despite the graduation of Dylan Griffith, whom coach Ben White called “the best libero in the state of Wisconsin,” Middleton is still the pick to win what would be a seventh consecutive conference title and 12th in the last 13 years. The Cardinals started the year ranked No. 8 by the state coaches. Multiple Big Eight coaches tabbed senior outside hitter Parker Van Buren as the best player in the state this year.
Growth spurt: Boys volleyball has experienced growth around the area, thanks in part to the recent increase in popularity of club programs. Madison Edgewood started a varsity program in 2018, and has created a co-operative program this year with Madison Country Day. Madison East coach Matt Filteau said “there are rumors that both Verona and Sun Prairie are looking to add a team in the next year or two. That is something that all of the coaches in the conference want. The more schools that have volleyball in the Madison area, the better everyone’s level of play becomes.”
End of an era: Madison Memorial coach Steve Collins said this will be his seventh and final year as the Spartans’ head coach. His son, Drew, is a senior this year. Collins said the Spartans have taken second or third place in the Big Eight standings in each of his first six years.
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1, Middleton; 2, Madison West; 3, Madison Memorial.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Middleton went undefeated in Big Eight play last year and advanced to the quarterfinals of the WIAA state tournament before closing out a 37-6 season. Eight letterwinners were lost, including two starters. “This team will have the least amount of experience at the varsity level that we have had in the last five years,” said coach Ben White, who is 414-166 over 19 seasons. “But we have some great pieces who will hopefully lead us.” Back are senior outside hitters Parker Van Buren and Scott Buros, whom White said “is smaller in stature but has an explosive jump” and recorded 110 kills, 10 blocks and 65 digs last year. White believes the Cardinals can challenge for another league title and a finish among the top 10 of the state. Nick Stott had 99 assists and 53 digs last year, and Matthew Stormer contributed 143 assists.
Madison Memorial returns six letterwinners, including four starters, from last year’s Big Eight Conference runner-up team. Leading the list of returnees are senior libero Nico Rauwolf and senior setter Drew Collins. “They have great outside and arguably the conference’s best passer,” Madison Edgewood coach Karl Hubbard said. “Coach (Steve) Collins always gets his kids to play hard and run a faster offense, so they should be good again.”
Madison West finished third in the conference, but lost three all-conference honorees to graduation. Back is junior libero Jack Wichem, who earned all-conference honorable mention last year. “They have a lot of varsity experience to build around sophomore setter James Hamm,” Edgewood coach Karl Hubbard said.
Madison La Follette has a lineup filled with athletic players, but East coach Matt Filteau says of the Lancers that “most of the team is going to be sophomores, and they might need a little more experience.” Junior Kodie Kraemer and sophomore Anthony Schroeder return after earning all-conference honorable mention last season.
Madison Edgewood/Country Day went 0-20 last year, its first as a varsity program. But coach Karl Hubbard says the Crusaders should be better this year — and the team proved it with a victory over Madison East during the season-opening Madison Round Robin Tournament. The turnout this year grew from 14 for opening tryouts to 34. “We’ve had a year to mature and get more reps,” Hubbard said. “In the conference we’ll be middle of the pack, between third and sixth.” Back are honorable mention all-conference senior Wallace Schmotzer, a 6-7 middle blocker; 6-foot junior hitter Chase Korb and 6-1 junior middle hitter Ethan Arndt. Big things are expected from sophomore setter Ethan Hallick. This year, the Crusaders have welcomed Madison Country Day to form a co-op.
Madison East lost six letterwinners, three of them starters, from last year’s fourth-place team. The departures include conference player of the year Sam Heiman. But coach Matt Filteau said “we have a strong core of younger players ready to compete in every game (but) maybe not ready to turn the corner to being in the top three teams — yet.” The Purgolders will be led on offense by senior middle hitter Sam Kearns Steffen, whose “game has really developed over the past two years,” Filteau said, along with juniors Jack Hussin and Jesse Hussin. Jack has “good hands (and is) very athletic and a good competitor,” the coach said, and Jesse “has grown in his game a lot over the past two years. This should be the year that everything starts to come together.”
Fort Atkinson lost first-team all-conference setter Keegan Talbot to graduation, but returns junior Kraymer Gladem, a second-team pick from 2018’s team that went 3-5 in the conference. “I expect Fort to finish in the top half of the conference. We have a lot of strong returning players,” coach Manson Morris said. “Last year our setter graduated so, predictably, we’re developing chemistry between the new setter and the hitters.”