When the Madison Edgewood girls volleyball team gathered at 6 a.m. Aug. 16 for its first practice, coach Eliza Zwettler and the Crusaders talked about their high hopes for this season after winning a sectional title last year.
And with 10 returners — including nine seniors, led by Marquette commit Natalie Ring and North Dakota State commit Ally Barth — the team has great expectations.
But prior to packing up those memories from a year ago, they also addressed the abrupt ending to the fall 2020 season, which turned their jubilation to extreme disappointment.
Joy and excitement followed the WIAA Division 2 sectional final victory over Platteville in Lake Mills. But those feelings disappeared when Edgewood wasn’t able to make its state appearance because of health protocols with the team — after the Crusaders had masked up, followed health and gathering guidelines and made it through the season to that point amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was definitely a little heart-wrenching,” said Barth, 6-foot-1 middle blocker. “Honestly, I think we all are super excited to get back and get playing. There is going to be a lot of different COVID stuff this year, too, with different protocols and the (Delta) variant.
“But we are going to do whatever we can to play. It definitely was hard. … But we are ready to get back. We are so ready.”
Zwettler had to pause when asked about the contrast in emotions the team experienced.
“I think we really went through a full swing of emotions, from the highest of highs to really low,” Zwettler said. “Myself and the team still get emotional talking about it. We really felt we had worked so hard. It was such a bummer.
“I think we acted with integrity and we did the right thing (by withdrawing from the state tournament), and I think that is something that can’t be taken away when you speak to the character of our program and our girls. We tried to do what was right for everyone and not just for ourselves.”
Zwettler, in her fourth season as coach, said she’s been told the journey is the reward and hopes in the long run her team will be rewarded.
“I think we have big dreams,” she said.
But Zwettler added about the 2020 season: “That is in the past now, and we can’t dwell on it. We can let it push us and drive us. But that’s done and it’s ‘bury the hatchet.’ It’s time to move on. This is a brand new season, and anything can happen.”
Ring, a 6-1 outside hitter, said the ending to last season “lit a little fire to do whatever it takes.”
“After the ending to the season, I think we all just appreciate every moment that we have to play a little bit more,” Ring said.
Ring, Barth, senior libero Lauren Hazelett, senior right-side hitter Amber Grosse and junior Addie Schmotzer provide experience and talent for Edgewood, which enters a season that begins with Dane County teams playing under a mask mandate and wraps up with a loaded Division 2 sectional field.
Ring was a Division 2 first-team All-State selection by the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association last fall. Barth, who also plays basketball and competes in high jump and shot put in track and field, was a second-team All-State volleyball choice and Hazelett earned honorable mention recognition.
“Our lineup last year was pretty set,” Ring said. “I think we have a lot of new pieces, and pieces we can move around, to try to find the best picture we can make with this puzzle.”
Senior Kayla Buelling steps in at setter for the graduated Ella Foti, now on Marquette’s volleyball team.
“Obviously, replacing someone like Ella Foti is difficult, but Kayla got to play under her for a couple years and got to learn from her,” Zwettler said. “Last year she had experience playing. We played two or three weeks without Ella (due to injury), and Kayla stepped in and set for us then (and during part of the sectional final when Foti suffered an injury).”
Zwettler wants the Crusaders to be known for their serve-receive ability and gritty defense, but there’s no denying their height again will be intimidating, with Ring, Barth, Schmotzer and 6-2 freshman Rebecca Ring, Natalie’s sister, all taller than 6 feet.
“We have the potential to be at the level we were at the end of the season,” said Natalie Ring, whose father, Joe Ring, is the Edgewood boys golf coach. “Hopefully, we can take the extra lap that we didn’t get to finish last year. We have a lot of great-looking underclassmen coming in.”
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Ella DeNoyer, sr., Lakeside Lutheran
DeNoyer, a middle hitter who’s a four-year starter, was an honorable-mention pick on the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association Division 2 All-State team for the fall 2020 season for Lakeside Lutheran, which finished as WIAA Division 2 state runner-up.
Ally Barth, sr., Madison Edgewood
North Dakota State commit Barth, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, was a second-team selection on the WVCA Division 2 All-State team for fall, 2020. She helped the Crusaders win a sectional title last year, but Edgewood withdrew prior to the state tournament due to health protocols with the team during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Natalie Ring, sr., Madison Edgewood
Marquette commit Ring, a 6-1 outside hitter, was a first-team choice on the WVCA Division 2 All-State team for fall, 2020, for Edgewood’s sectional champion and state qualifier (prior to withdrawing).
Maddy Fortune, sr., McFarland
Fortune directs the Spartans’ attack from her setter position. The senior, who has committed to UW-Stevens Point, was an honorable-mention selection on the WVCA All-State team for the WIAA’s 2021 alternate fall season last spring. McFarland reached the Division 1 state semifinals in the alternate fall season.
Avery Pennekamp, sr., McFarland
Pennekamp, a six-rotation hitter, was a second-team choice on the WVCA All-State team for the alternate fall season in the spring spring as McFarland advanced to play eventual champion Appleton North in the state semifinals.
Alia Schlimgen, sr., Sauk Prairie
South Dakota State commit Schlimgen, a libero and defensive standout, was an honorable-mention choice on the WVCA Division 1 All-State team for the fall, 2020, season for state qualifier Sauk Prairie. She’s seeking to reach 1,000 career digs despite missing her sophomore season with a torn ACL.
Aida Shadewald, sr., Sauk Prairie
Wright State commit Shadewald, an outside hitter, was a first-team pick on the WVCA Division 1 All-State team for the fall 2020 season when Sauk Prairie advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals.
Claudia Bobb, sr., Verona
Bobb, an outside hitter, is planning to attend Southern Illinois next year, according to Verona coach Jillian Bauer.
Delaney McIntosh, sr., Verona
McIntosh, an outside hitter planning to attend Colorado State next year, and Bobb will look to lead Verona to a top spot in the Big Eight Conference.
Michaela Riege, sr., Waterloo
Riege, a libero, was an honorable-mention selection on the WVCA Division 3 All-State team for the fall, 2020, season. She’s approaching the school record for digs for Waterloo, which finished as the WIAA Division 3 state runner-up in fall 2020.