Boys spikers haul in postseason awards

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Rob Reischel
Middleton senior outside hitter Cole Spitler was named first-team all-Big Eight./File photo

Middleton’s boys volleyball team had another unforgettable season.

And the Cardinals were handsomely rewarded when it came time for postseason honors.

Middleton, which reached the state tournament for the fourth straight year, had six players earn all-Big Eight Conference honors. Cardinals head coach Ben White was also named the state’s Coach of the Year.

Middleton junior Thomas Robson was named first-team all-Big Eight, was the conference’s Player of the Year and received second-team all-state honors. Senior outside hitter Cole Spitler and junior setter Andrew Lepage received first-team all-league honors.

Junior middle blocker Brian Verganz was named second-team all-conference, while senior defensive specialist/outside hitter Ben Miller and sophomore outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud were both named honorable mention all-conference.

Robson had a remarkable 504 digs and led the team in service aces (33). He was also third on the team in assists (61).

“In all my years of coaching, I've never had a libero that could completely take over a match and make the other team change how they attack us,” White said. “I've had some outstanding defensive specialists, but Thomas is already at the top of the list. He holds the school record already for career digs and he has three of the top four seasons with most digs.

“Thomas is the first defensive specialist/libero to win the Big Eight Conference Player of the Year award and it was an unanimous decision. He takes over the back row. He sees things no one else sees and makes plays that no one else can make. There were so many times this year that he made a play where we coaches would look at each other and just say, ‘Did that just happen?’

“He's a special player. I’m so proud of him for making second team all-state. It’s so tough for juniors to get recognized in boys volleyball and to achieve this honor is amazing. I can’t wait to see what he can do in his fourth year on varsity.”

Spitler led Middleton with 318 kills, becoming just the fifth player at Middleton since 2004 to notch more than 300 kills in a season. He also tied for the team lead in blocks (40) and added 49 digs.

“No one has worked harder in an offseason in my time as coach than Cole Spitler,” White said. “Cole's junior year … he was an afterthought watching others lead us to wins. This offseason he transformed himself both physically and on the court. He is the definition of what hard work and perseverance looks like.

“Cole had some dominating matches on the outside for us. He was our go-to player in times of need. He led by example and is a great role model for the younger players. I’m very proud to state that he was the top vote getter in the Big Eight conference behind Thomas. He had a great career at MHS.”

Lepage led the Cardinals with 739 assists, a sensational average of 7.7 per set. Lepage was also second on the team in digs (206) and aces (29).

“Andrew is also a completely different player now than he was a year ago,” White said. “His transition was mental. He went from a nervous, young, sophomore to a calm, composed, junior who ran the show. He is so consistent as a setter. He has a great mindset and makes great decisions.

“Once we gave him the keys to the offense, we completely changed as a team. I can't say enough about him both on and off the court. He already holds the record for most assists in a career and has an outside shot of hitting the 2,000 assist career total next year. I think by the end of the year, you could easily make an argument that Andrew was one of the top five setters in the state.”

Verganz made a monumental jump and was also named the Cardinals’ Most Improved Player. Verganz was third on the team in kills (219) and had a .372 kill percentage. Verganz also tied for the team lead in blocks (40) and added 36 digs.

“When I think of Brian, all I can do is smile because I know he is coming back for one more year and I cannot wait to see what he does,” White said. “To start the year he was always questioning himself and didn't play with confidence. And by the end of the year, I can only think of one or two middles in state that were playing at the level Brian was.

“Brian became our kill leader towards the end of the year and opened things up for Cole and Eagan on the outside. Brian can be an offensive force. If his blocking makes the same leaps as his offense, he will be up there for top middle in the state.”

Miller was third on the team in digs (183) and had 19 aces. White felt Miller deserved much better in the voting.

“I say this every year, because every year one of my players doesn't get the recognition they deserve,” White said. “This year it is Ben. If Ben plays for any other team in the conference, he is their starting libero and battling Thomas for that top player award. He would also be outside hitter on every team but ours.

“Ben is so versatile on the court. He can play so many positions and he'll do whatever it takes to win. He is the player that would run into a wall for you to get a point. As a three-year member of the varsity team, he's been a part of a lot of great wins and achieved a lot of success. Not many people can say they played at state three years in a row and Ben was a big reason why we got there.”

Peters-Michaud improved dramatically through the season and finished second on the team in kills (236). He also added 130 digs and 19 aces.

“The sky is the limit for Eagan,” White said. “If he puts in the work in the offseason both on and off the court, he could go as far as some of the greats in the program. To start the year, things were coming very easy to Eagan, but as the season went on and teams realized how good this sophomore was, they made him earn everything. And he did outstanding.

“For a sophomore to have 12 kills at state against the team that went on to win the state title is pretty spectacular. I don’t think many in state realized how young he is. Eagan will make it hard for me to take him out of the back row next year, because he plays with no fear. I know he'll develop a jump serve. I know he'll be a force in the offense out of the back row. The future is bright for him.”

The modest and humble White didn’t want the spotlight turned on him after winning the state’s Coach of the Year. But few have been more deserving.

In a season many felt Middleton would be rebuilding, it reached the state tournament once again and won the Big Eight for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

“It truly is a great honor,” White said. “I'm blessed to have outstanding assistant coaches and I cannot say enough about them. Justin Haack, Andrew Bessick and Tony Roessler develop the younger players that allow me to take players that already know the fundamentals and are ready to play varsity volleyball when they get to me.

“Connor Zimmick and volunteer coach Kurt Wong, helped so much with the varsity team, pushing individuals each day to get better. I think I'm most proud of this team because we withstood a very low moment in the season and rose up to play at such a high level by the end of the year.

“This team was so much fun to coach. They really wanted to get better every day, and most importantly they had fun while doing it. I was glad I was along for the ride.”

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