Jacob friede/lakeland times

Camille Quade focuses on her serve during a recent game.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

Camille Quade focuses on her serve during a recent game.
When building a program, the measurements for progress go beyond wins and losses, and in that sense this year’s Lakeland volleyball team took major strides.

“In the beginning of the season the girls put together their goals of the 2018 season, and what makes a good evaluation of this is accomplishing all of them,” head coach Carley Punzel said. “They communicated on the court better, they got more wins, they knew more about the game of volleyball, they held one another accountable.”

The success with their team goals led to a 2-10 seventh place finish in the Great Northern Conference and an 11-27 overall record, and though they were few, each win was a major building block for Thunderbird volleyball.

“We are making strides in this program and this group of girls changed the program for the better,” Punzel said.

But it took a bit for the Thunderbirds to stretch their legs. They dropped five in a row to start the season but then picked up a win against North Crawford at tournament in Menominee. A couple weeks later they picked up two more at the Ashland invite, defeating Bessemer and Mellen.  

Then a rough conference schedule began and Lakeland would only manage to defeat Rhinelander twice along the way.  

However, it was against the tough conference opponents Thunderbirds started coming together as a team.

“We struggled with communication in the beginning of the season and as the season went on it just kept getting better and better,” Punzel said. “And it showed because once they spoke to one another the flow of the game seemed effortless.”

The communication and rhythm established enabled the T-Birds to hang with some good teams and keep it together when things started falling apart. Against Northland Pines and Kingsford, both very strong teams, the Thunderbirds battled through full nights of long rallies to force extra sets in both matches.

“We also got better at getting out of holes of the game,” Punzel said. “I’ve never seen a team work harder at getting out of holes close to 10 points so many times in a season.”

By the time Lakeland hosted it’s own tournament on Oct. 13, the Thunderbirds were firing on all cylinders. They won the T-Bird Invite by winning 10 of their 12 games, defeating Hayward and Ironwood in straight sets and tying Florence and Chequamegon 1-1 to complete their best day of the season, as far as wins go.

But for coach Punzel, the truly best game of the season was the last one, in the first round regional game against Mosinee. The T-Birds lost the battle with the powerhouse Indians but gave them fits all night by throwing them out of rhythm and constantly returning their best shots.

“That was by far one of the most exciting, thrilling, intense games that they played,” Punzel said.

By the time the season was over, Punzel noticed a few players in particular had made major progress.

“Ashely Marquardt, I feel, had the most changes. She went from doing a 6-2 to a 5-1 in with class. That’s a lot of pressure on a player,” Punzel said of the junior who was charged being the teams playmaker in a formation that featured a single setter.

A lot of Marquardt’s assists went to Camille Quade, a sophomore who became a major force on the court both with her play and her voice.

“Camille Quade blossomed into a natural leader and hitter and I know she will follow in Mel Bruckner’s footsteps to continue to make sure there is a voice out on the court and that killer instinct,” Punzel said.  

Bruckner, Lakeland’s lone senior, finished as one of the conference’s top scorers and leaves a major hole to be filled, but Punzel is confident she has the players to do that.

“Each and every one of my returning players is vital to the team, to me, to each other, to the program,” she said.

With all the battles and tough lessons learned in 2018, that program now stands on a much more solid foundation for the future.

“Good things are to come, it just takes time and patience and most of all dedication,” Punzel said. “I know Lakeland volleyball will be a team to beat.”

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.