SPASH volleyball rolling into Pink Event
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With a veteran group back, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) volleyball team is off to a fast start the season.
The Panthers went 2-0 at the Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) Meet at SPASH Saturday, Sept. 15, to improve to 5-0 in the conference and 23-1 overall this season.
SPASH is set to return to action when it competes in the Appleton East Invitational Saturday, Sept. 22, before it hosts Wausau East in the eighth-annual Diggin’ The Cause Pink Event at the SPASH Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27.
“We come to practice with a positive mindset, and come in here to get better every day,” said SPASH senior libero Megan Miklesh. “And it’s been nothing but great so far this season.”
“It’s going great, and it’s so fun,” said SPASH volleyball head coach Julie Johnson. “Our record is good and all of that, but we’re trying to focus on what’s coming next and playing in the moment.
“Take care of what’s in front of us, and pay attention to details,” she said. “And we feel like if we do those things, then we’ll be all right.”
SPASH lost Unanimous First Team All-WVC setter Ally Miklesh from last year’s team that advanced to the WIAA Division 1 Sectional Semifinals, but brought back an experienced group that includes eight seniors and five juniors this season.
“We have such good communication on our team and such a strong bond between every single player, that our teamwork is just awesome,” said senior middle blocker Gabby Johnson. “We’re a bunch of loud girls that love cheering for each other and getting excited.
“We’re rowdy, it’s no fun when it’s quiet on the court, and we’re certainly not that,” she said.
21The Panthers are led by the return Unanimous First Team All-WVC senior outside hitter Kayla Lass, a NCAA Division 1 University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) recruit, as well as a trio of Honorable Mention All-WVC selections from a year ago in Megan Miklesh, Gabby Johnson and senior right side hitter Allysa Deates.
Also working into the lineup this season have been senior outside hitter Lexi Iwanski, junior middle blocker/outside hitter Maddy Dokken and senior right side hitter Hannah Meyer.
“We’re very balanced,” said SPASH volleyball head coach Julie Johnson. “We have Kayla on the outside, Gabby in the middle, and Maddy has stepped into the middle position, so it’s a little different for her this year, and then Lexi on the outside also.
“On the right side, Alyssa has been injured for the last couple of weeks, and Hannah has stepped up in that role,” she said. “And we’ve been able to just go forward and we kept winning.”
Senior Ashley Schrank moved into the lineup this season at setter and leads in the WVC with 8.28 assists per set, while junior defensive specialist Olivia Stroik and junior setter/right side hitter Maggie Lawrynk have also seen regular playing time, with senior defensive specialist Emmy Engle, junior defensive specialist/right side Merriah Niedfeldt, junior defensive specialist/outside hitter Taylor Hamerski and sophomore middle blocker Hilirie McLaughlin also in the mix.
“I don’t like to talk about individuals that are standing out; I just think we’re playing really well as a team,” said coach Johnson. “But Ashley had very limited experience as a junior last year, and she’s really stepped up and has been making a difference out there.
“But it’s a real balanced team, and I’m really proud of all of their efforts,” she said.
“We’re all bonding really well, and we’re all trying to reach one or two big goals for all of us,” said Lass. “And if we work together, the sky’s the limit for us.”
SPASH opened its season by winning its Panther Invite Aug. 21, and followed by going 6-1 at the UW-Stout Sprawl Aug. 24 and 25, with a 2-1 loss to reigning Division 4 State Champion Clayton in its first match at the tournament.
Since then the Panthers have 17 wins in a row, as they won the D.C. Everest Invite Sept. 1, and opened the conference season 3-0 after they won 3-2 over D.C. Everest Aug. 30, rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 win over Wausau West Sept. 6, and won 3-0 over Wisconsin Rapids Sept. 13.
“Even though we’ve been in tight situations, we’re pulling it out,” said coach Johnson. “Against West, we lost the first two games, came back, and didn’t give up.
“We had great perseverance that we showed, and that was one of my favorite wins, just because it was so dire,” she said.
Included in the run was last Saturday, when SPASH hosted the first of the two WVC Meets this season, after the Panthers (9-3) finished second in the conference last year behind Merrill (10-2).
SPASH and Merrill squared off Saturday morning, and Merrill won 25-16 in the first set, before SPASH came back and won 25-21, 25-17, 25-18 to claim a 3-1 victory.
“We were down the first set against Merrill and we came back and just clawed our way back from like a 19-9 deficit (in the second), and we took that game, which was just awesome for us,” said Gabby Johnson. “And then the same with East, we were struggling through our second two games, but we pulled it out and were able to come away with the wins.”
SPASH closed out its day with a 3-0 win over Wausau East by scores of 25-18, 26-24, 25-23, to finish 2-0 at the meet and improve to 5-0 in the WVC to sit alone at the top of the conference ahead of Merrill (4-1), Wausau West (2-2), D.C. Everest (2-3) and Wausau East (2-3).
The Panthers were scheduled to travel to Marshfield (1-4) Thursday, Sept. 20, to close out the first half of the WVC season, before they compete in the Appleton East Invitational Saturday, Sept. 22.
SPASH will then play at home against Wausau East for the eighth annual Diggin’ The Cause event, which raises funds for the Saint Michael’s Foundation Breast Cancer Fund.
“The Pink Event is a special time for the whole team,” said Deates. “We play for women that are going through breast cancer, and for breast cancer research, and it’s a really special event for families to come and support and raise money.
“On normal game nights we’ll have a decent amount of people come in, but it’s like literally the whole town shows up on that night,” she said. “And I can’t even describe how cool the feeling is.”
“We’ve raised over $85,000 in the years that we’ve had this event, and I’m super proud of the effort,” said coach Johnson. “We have great community support, the school district supports, and it’s such a fun event that everyone gets behind and it’s for such a great cause.
“We’ve learned how much the disease affects people personally, and so it’s really, really nice to be able to do something and feel like you’re giving back,” she said. “The money stays local in our area, and I’m proud that we’re able to help people in our community.”
The Panthers will then have more than a week off before the second WVC Meet at Merrill Oct. 6, while SPASH closes the conference season at Merrill Oct. 11, with the WIAA Division 1 Playoffs set to begin Oct. 18.
“Our goal is to win the conference, but like I said, we focus on one thing at a time, and then just keep getting better,” said coach Johnson. “We pick apart stuff in practice every day to work on the things that we need to work on, and we’re just talking to the girls about being a great team.
“Making smart decisions, and just continuing to work hard on the things that will make us better every day,” she said.
“Last year we wanted to win conference, we took second, so this year we’re definitely out for that,” said Lass. “We want to keep winning, keep the streak going, and keep working together really well.
“And even if something does go wrong, to just keep our heads up and keep fighting,” she said.