Lady Demons win 3rd title in 7 years

Players rush the court after the state title victory in November in Green Bay. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

Not too much more can be said about the 2017 Burlington girls varsity volleyball team.

Dealt a hand of young players, with only two seniors receiving major minutes, the campaign was off to a rocky start with a bad loss to Westosha Central and the team’s first loss to Waterford in more than a decade.

But that’s where coaching and a family culture shines through.

Hyper-competitive practices, with reserves pushing starters, some skilled coaching from longtime volleyball experts Dan Lynch and Teri Leach, and a relentless pursuit of victory by any means eventually led to the Demons’ third state championship in seven years, with the first two coming in 2011 and 2012.

While the first two titles featured three blue-chip Division 1 college players, this year’s bunch epitomized a team-like approach. With Abby Koenen as the only certified star, everyone played their roles, and sacrifices were required.

Just ask senior Brooklyn Vandehei, who had to play every position on the court, along with junior Maddie Berezowitz, who transitioned from a libero to an outside hitter to make room for freshman libero Sam Naber.

An emphasis on film study, thanks to a young, committed coaching staff, including former University of Wisconsin star player Brittney Neu.

Lynch said it was the first time he and Leach explored film study, and he’s excited about the future prospects.

While there wasn’t a clear-cut favorite to win the Division 1 state championship in 2017, Burlington entered the eight-team state tournament field with 10 losses.

The Demons, who began the season 10-6, finished 25-4, progressing from a 10th-place showing at the Joust to third at the Sprawl before gaining revenge on both Westosha and Waterford to win the Southern Lakes Conference tournament.

Then, in Green Bay, Burlington dispatched previously-unbeaten River Falls in a mild upset in the state championship match.

Koenen, Vandehei and Tamlyn Kretschmer will all play college volleyball.

The Lady Demons are the prime attraction for area volleyball, as a handful of girls drive from other communities to play.

With a strong feeder program, Burlington Elite, preparing grade-school girls to play high-level competition, it’s an added bonus that Leach, the head varsity coach, is hands-on with running the youth program.


Resiliency led to success

On the Monday after winning state back in early November, the team was serenaded with a parade through downtown Burlington, with players riding in fire trucks and a host of family and friends in attendance.

Burlington Major Jeannie Hefty read a proclamation congratulating the team, and Lynch explained in detail the state-winning point, a strategically-placed kill from Koenen.

Lynch, perhaps the most veteran coach in the area with 30 years on his resume, fired up the crowd with his breakdown of the final play – a kill by Koenen that was made possible by a timely block.

“We’re up 14-13, and Cayla Gutche has got to get that ball in, or she knows I’m going to do one of my famous (makes angry face),” Lynch said to the crowd. “She put it in, and then Kaley Blake and Emily Alan stuffed that Division 1 middle. They made a diving save, and it gave us a free ball. So Gutche passed the free ball perfectly to Kaley, and as the ball left Blake’s hands, I saw the matchup Abby had, and in my head I said, ‘We just won.’”

For Lynch, the most important factor that pushed the team to this point was its resilience and ability to stick to the plan, no matter the adversity.

“Their ability to take information and absorb it, and stick to our game plan was outstanding,” he said. “With the help of Brittney (Neu), our coach, who is really good at breaking down film, we had very explicit game plans for our last four or five matches, and these girls stuck to it like you wouldn’t believe.”

At the end of parade ceremony, which occurred under the gazebo at Wehmhoff Park, or the library park, Hefty took it home with some perspective.

“With all that Burlington went through this year, something like this just lifts everybody up, and I thank you very much for doing this,” she said.

In her proclamation, Hefty lauded the fact it’s the Demons’ third title this decade.

“Unbelievable,” she screamed. “I can’t believe it. I didn’t realize you did that.”

“Thanks to the coaches and all the families that have gone through this. You’ve always supported your kids.”