The Ripon High School volleyball team tasted success toward the end of the alternative fall season.
Now, it is hungry for more.
The Tigers enter the season determined to build off last season, which saw them win five-straight matches before dropping a regional semifinal match to a Division 1 Sun Prairie team that made it to state. They played in the spring after the Ripon School Board as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m very impressed with their focus, intensity and the excitement to start the season,” Ripon head coach Tracy Landerman said. “Just having finished a season, and then starting up again, they couldn’t wait ... And last season we had some success, and it was good, even under the circumstances.”
Ripon returns several key players from last season’s team, who include incoming seniors Abby Radloff, Erika Mills; juniors Sheridan Zimmerman and Eva Baker; and sophomores Maleigha Kovalaske and Karsyn Bauman. It also welcomes back senior Avary Makarewicz, who went out for volleyball her first two years, before sitting out last season in order to get ready for the spring softball season.
They will be joined by varsity newcomers Jessica Klettke, Ashley Anadell, Alli Bumby and Ari Brooks. Klettke and Anadell are seniors this year, while Bumby is a junior and Brooks is a sophomore.
While the team features a mix of returners and newcomers, Landerman believes team chemistry will be one of the Tigers’ strengths this year as she noted the players look out for each other, work hard for each other and are committed to achieving success collectively as a team.
Another strength she sees is Ripon’s ability to put a good block on the ball.
“We have some height,” Landerman said. “We have some kids that have played the game and are comfortable with good net play ... I’m already seeing some of that in our practices.”
She added that she thinks the blocking is going to get better as the season progresses and the more touches the Tigers get on the ball. Landerman said competition against other schools also will highlight some of the other strengths of the team and areas that the team needs to focus on to improve.
One of the areas she sees room for improvement at the start of the season is anticipating the play and being in the right position. She also noted that gaining exposure and experience will be a key to success.
Ripon figures to have a lot more opportunities to grow this season as it is slated to take part in multi-team tournaments again this season after taking part in just single-school matches a year ago due to COVID-19. Its first tournament will be this Friday and Saturday at the Just-A-Game Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells.
“They’re very excited about it and so am I,” Landerman said. “Losing out on those multiple-team tournaments really makes a difference, especially in this sport because we see a lot of growth in our players as the season progresses. And when you have those multiple-match tournaments where they get a ton of touches on the ball, it makes a huge difference. Plus, it gives you time to try some different things.”
The Tigers also will be challenged in their conference competition as they return to the East Central Conference after playing as a member of the Flyway Conference as part of the alternative fall season. The only change to the East Central is Campbellsport no longer is a member as it joined the Flyway.
“It was interesting playing and somewhat fun to play with some schools that we hadn’t played against, but we know we’ll be pressed as we always are with our conference,” Landerman said. “Our conference, in my mind, does not have a weak team when it comes to what type of volleyball is played in the state. We have a very progressive conference in the game of volleyball and we have a very competitive conference.”
The Ripon head coach added she’s looking forward to seeing how the Tigers approach the tough opposition and believes that she has a team that’s ready to play with that type of competition.
Among her goals for Ripon this season are to be competitive in the conference and matchup with the schools it plays against, figure out how to expose other teams’ weaknesses and take advantage of them, approach practice like it is a game, utilize individual players’ strengths and feed the ball to the hot hand.
She noted the season will be a success if the Tigers “continue to work hard in practice, take the game to the next level, push each other to get better, and just play and don’t dwell on if there’s mistakes made on the court.”
After beginning the season Friday and Saturday in Wisconsin Dells, Ripon will have about a week off before beginning conference play Thursday, Sept. 2 at Winneconne. It will then compete Saturday, Sept. 4 at the Marshfield Invitational.