The Burlington girls volleyball team poses with its brand new state title trophy moments after winning Nov. 4 in Green Bay. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

Only a handful of teams in WIAA history have won three state championships.

Burlington can now join that elite group.

After last weekend’s thrilling 3-2 victory over previously undefeated River Falls, a Lady Demons squad that many thought wouldn’t do much at state, based especially on an inexperienced roster and the lost of key players from last year’s run, defied everyone and took home another gold ball.

While Burlington was never ranked higher than No. 8 in the state rankings all season, the Demons had a few key things going for them that made a fourth straight state tournament trip seem feasible.

First, Dan Lynch and Teri Leach are two of the best coaches in any sport in Wisconsin, and that isn’t just limited to high school action.

With a lineage of volleyball, the sport is Lynch’s oxygen, as he comes from a family where his brother coached two state championship teams and two of his sisters won titles as players.

Furthermore, Lynch’s niece, Teri, is a natural.

An excellent former player of Lynch, Teri joined the coaching staff as an 18-year-old in 2000 and the rest, as they say, is history.

She took over the local developmental club, Burlington Elite, in 2012, and a few of her players are now key figures on this year’s title team.

 

A fearless dedication

Leach and Lynch are dedicated, passionate volleyball junkies who give everything they have to the sport and the community, teaching young girls the values of hard work, being a teammate, sacrificing for the greater good and the nuts and bolts of the game.

It’s about getting as many touches on the ball as possible year-round, and the fact that Leach said Tuesday that a club meeting is already coming up with parents, she wasn’t lying when she said there isn’t an offseason – if you want to challenge for state titles.

She does all this while juggling teaching at Cooper School and taking care of four kids, with her oldest, Mackenzie, a freshman on this year’s championship bunch.

With all of the hoopla surrounding the accomplishment, including a pep assembly and parade Monday, increased media requests and an overall buzz around school, she’s exhausted.

But was it all worth it?

“The kids love the game, and it’s something we love, too,” Leach said, referring to the coaches. “Coaching your kid is tough, but what’s neat is my kids have always been included.”

 

Hanging out with mommy

While Teri lauds the relationships she forms with players, it’s taken to another level with the way her players interact, and take care of, her own children.

With her young girls hanging around practices for years now and undoubtedly picking up on certain things about volleyball and nuances of a team, Leach forms a deep bond with players that lasts well beyond the court.

“We have a tradition of athletes interacting with each other,” she said. “There are constant contributions, culture stuff, between former and current players.”

“It allows us that success. I love the program and the entire staff. It’s been five years with Britt, Madalyn, Kaley and Parker. They all believe in what we’re doing.”

While the 2011 title team was ranked highly in the state all season, and the 2012 squad faced tremendous pressure to repeat, and they did, this year’s team wasn’t really expected to get to state, much less a state title match.

And after lackluster losses to conference rivals Westosha Central and Waterford, something that pretty much never happens in the same season to the Demons happened – they didn’t win conference.

The mix of three seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen had about a month to put it all together before the playoffs, and they sure did.

Burlington finished the season like world-beaters, winning its final 17 matches, and gaining redemption on the Wolverines and Falcons in the process.

“These girls were so focused on improving,” Leach said. “They’re so incredibly mature and goal-oriented.”

 

Enjoying the ride

With such a late-season flurry, Leach and the Demons don’t want it to end. Both Leach and Lynch referred to a bittersweet sensation, knowing the won it all but realizing it’s all over, and it will be a good six months before summer camp plans take shape.

The Demons improved their serving all season long, found creative ways to block bigger, stronger hitters and displayed what they call “silly energy” at all times in the final few weeks.

What is perhaps the most impressive thing about the team is its depth.

Starters raved about the bench’s talent, and practices were so intense they simulated games.

Bench players would hold their own against the starters in practice, and the competition proved beneficial in the end.

On Tuesday night, Leach said she’s thankful for the great celebrations offered up by the high school and the city.

She doesn’t have to search far for community support.

Local businesses from Dairy Queen on the south side to McDonald’s downtown are displaying congratulations to the champs on their outdoor digital signs.

“It’s neat and great for the girls,” Leach said. “They’ll remember it forever.”

“Nobody quite wants it to end. Now it’s like, reality check.”

 

Defying the odds

The 2017 version of the Lady Demons will go down in history with the school’s past state champion squads, but I can’t help but think this one is the most impressive by far.

While the past squads produced three Division 1 college stars, this team has one first team all-state player in Koenen, a second-teamer in Sam Naber, and a third-team pick in Kaley Blake.

Maddie Berezowitz earned honorable mention.

To knock off a previously undefeated squad in the state title is extremely rare, and the Demons did it by letting go and completely trusting their coaches.

Teri and Dan have enjoyed a phenomenal run of nearly 20 years, and the teams seem to get better and better.

A trip to state is barely even recognized, as a new expectation is to win state, even with a small amount of upperclassmen.

But with Teri and Dan at the helm, Burlington’s future is in good hands.

A new-found emphasis on studying game film will only get more in-depth, and thanks to assistant coaches like Brittney Neu and Madalyn McDonald, the two head coaches don’t feel like they need eyes in the back of their heads to catch everything.

Everything is organized and in place for continued success, and it starts with Burlington Elite.

Don’t be surprised if the Demons return to Green Bay in 2018.

For now, congratulations from Burlington Standard Press and Southern Lakes Newspapers.

The Lady Demons are an inspiration to the local community, and this volleyball factory called Burlington will continue to pump out talent and high-level squads.

Leach doesn’t mind the extra attention, and she shouldn’t. She and Lynch have the best volleyball program in the state.

I wouldn’t want to move on to real life, either.

“There have been some great celebrations,” Leach said. “It makes it feel like we’re still going.”

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