While most fall sports proceed to be outdoors, the smell of popcorn, the sound of the echoing gym and the sight of a volleyball net start another fun season for Lakeland volleyball.
Carley Punzel returns for her fourth season at the helm. Players who were freshman when she first started are now seniors as she continues to get players to buy in to the program.
One of the keys to this volleyball team’s success is Abby Parris. She returns from last year when she had 38 kills. She was honorable mention all-conference last year.
“I have a really good connection with her, cause she was my first year when she was a freshman, and she’s been with me throughout the whole thing,” Punzel explained.
Another Thunderbird to keep an eye on is Camille Quade. Punzel has had her eye on her for a while and is excited to see what she can bring to the table.
“(Camille) was one I brought up her freshman year, I really wanted to work on her and make her into the player that she is now,” Punzel said.
There is one newcomer who Punzel is excited to see play and that is freshman Callie Ullius. Ullius will bring another dimension to this excited volleyball team.
“(Ullius’) personality, her dedication, her communication, she’s got it,” Punzel said. “She’s gonna be one stepping into a major role right away.”
The schedule is wide open. The Thunderbirds finished sixth last year but made some great strides during the season. Some of the key teams to look out for are Mosinee and Medford, who finished first and second respectively last year.
“Every year we always want to be big, we want to be the top,” Punzel said. “Every year we’ve gotten better, we’ve won more and more games. It excites me that I feel like we definitely have a spot in the top three.”
To start the season, the Thunderbirds did a set of tryouts. These tryouts were designed to get the best volleyball players on the court.
“My goal this year with tryouts is to create teams to create wins,” Punzel said. “We want teams to flow and teams that will work positively together.”
Not only did the coaches look for players that show the best skill, but players that will form and shape the best overall team.
“We obviously look at skill but a big part of having a good team is chemistry, communication and most importantly having love for the game,” Punzel said.
The Lakeland volleyball team got ready for their season with a trio of scrimmages at Northland Pines High School on Aug. 24.
All games in the tournament were set to a 25-minute timer. There was no score kept as the game would be concluded when the 25 minutes were up.
“Today was a very good start. It was so much fun watching the girls and us coaches are proud of what they accomplished today,” explained coach Carley Punzel.
The Thunderbirds first game was against Prentice. In this game, the highlight early was back-to-back aces by Ashley Marquardt.
After a couple of good plays by Prentice, Parris used her strength to give two points for Lakeland. Another point was scored when Isabel Killian had a big block.
With Lakeland continuing to work on different scenarios, Sarah Thompson had two straight aces herself to put some momentum on their side.
“We have a wide range of talented girls and that’s all a coach can ask for,” Punzel said. “We went into the day to have fun and play hard, work together and that's exactly what they did.”
The last highlight of the Prentice scrimmage was Parris hitting a couple of spikes down for some more points. She showed how versatile she can be.
Phillips was the next opponent for the Thunderbirds. This time, Quade showed her ability to hit the ball hard for a couple of kills early in the game. She also got an ace. Killian had another block.
Part of the goal of these scrimmages is to see what Punzel has and what rotations to use.
“I like having scrimmages and preseason tournaments like these to work out the kinks, to figure out what my rotation is going to be for the season,” Punzel said. “We have a lot of talent this year and it’s figuring out where to put it to get us wins.”
Parris played big again against Phillips, being everywhere on the court and doing exactly what her teammates need her to do.
The final scrimmage of the day came against Mercer. Parris started it off strong with a kill. From there, Mercer went on a big run of points.
“We take full advantages of practices to work out those kinks and put our puzzle together to make that winning team,” Punzel said.
That Mercer run of points was stopped as Quade hit back-to-back kills to put the Thunderbirds back in business. Three straight points were later scored by Megan Haggart as well.
Lakeland got a lot of good practice in game-like situations throughout the morning. Now it is time for regular season games to begin.
“We talk about what worked, what didn’t and we coaches make those adjustments,” Punzel said. “We will take those for our next match up in Wausau next week.”
The Thunderbirds first game comes Wednesday, Aug. 28 with a quad at Wausau West High School starting at 4 p.m.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]