Boys spikers, Van Buren thinking big

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton senior outside hitter Parker Van Buren was a second-team all-state selection last season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Two years ago, few people in the volleyball world knew the name Parker Van Buren.

A Middleton sophomore at the time, Van Buren was a bit player for the 2017 Cardinals. He was green as grass. And at 6-foot-3, he hadn’t finished growing.

Today, Van Buren just might be the frontrunner to win Player of the Year honors in the state. And he’s the No. 1 reason why Middleton stands a terrific chance to win its first state tournament match since 2008.

The Cardinals opened their new season Tuesday at the Muskego Quadrangular. And the growth of Van Buren, now a 6-foot-7 senior outside hitter, has everyone in the program buzzing.

“He has the chance to be the most dominant player we've had at Middleton,” said Cardinals coach Ben White. “His size and the position he plays — outside — make him such a tough match-up.

“Usually people 6-7, or so, aren’t our outside hitters. He just adds another level that most teams in the state won't be able to match up with and he can be an offensive force both in the front row and back row.”

White has built one of the finest programs in the state.

The Cardinals have reached the state tournament six straight years and 10 times since 2006. Middleton has lost its first round match seven straight times, though, many in agonizing fashion like last year’s five-set defeat to Kenosha Indian Trail.

Van Buren is the kind of player who could help the Cardinals change their recent pattern, though.

Van Buren was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference and second-team all-state last year after finishing with 359 kills and a stellar .382 kill percentage (kills-errors/attempts). Van Buren, who has grown four inches since his sophomore year, was also named Middleton’s MVP a year ago.

This spring and summer, Van Buren exploded on the club scene and has become the target of several college programs.

“From what I have seen over the summer and then in our first few days (of practice), I would say he has definitely taken his game to the next level,” White said of Van Buren. “And the next level is where … most of the top programs in the country are lining up to talk with him.

“I've been very impressed at how he’s handling the recruiting process, showing great maturity and hopefully (he) will pick the school that is the best fit. As far as our expectations for him go, I'd say he'll probably set higher (goals) than I will. What I do know is his goal is to help us get back to state and try to get that elusive victory that we haven't tasted since 2008.”

The good thing for the Cardinals is they have plenty of gifted players around Van Buren.

Senior Scott Buros will line up at the other outside hitter position. And according to White, Buros could also be a force.

“Scott Buros is going to be a dynamic outside hitter for us,” White said. “Completely different make-up compared to Parker, but blessed with big hops. He hits with a lot of force and is good at hitting off the opponent’s hands. I honestly think the 1-2 punch of Parker and Scott might be one of the best outside hitter combinations in state.”

Junior Ruben Emmerich will be the Cardinals’ No. 1 middle hitter. Emmerich watched and learned behind standouts Sam Dettman and Owen Engling last year and seems ready to step into a leading role.

“He spent last year on varsity as a sophomore not playing much, but soaking up everything,” White said of Emmerich. “Now I call him a space eater. At 6-2 he isn't the biggest middle, but he takes up a lot of space and makes it difficult for opponents to hit around.”

Senior Matthew Stormer was a defensive specialist last year who’s now battling to be the Libero.  

“He has a lot of experience and is great at making the spectacular play,” White said of Stormer. “We need him to be that consistent presence in serve receive to help our setter run the offense.”

Junior Nick Stott is the frontrunner to play setter after backing up Matt Ballweg last year.

“Nick has great hands and is very consistent,” White said. “We ask our setters to play a lot of defense, so that will be an area for Nick to grow this year.”

Senior Adrian Gonzales is also in the hunt for playing time at outside hitter.

“He's done everything that can be asked of a player and he is going to do everything in his power to contribute,” White said of Gonzales.

Junior outside hitter Philip Mackey practiced with varsity at the end of the year and suited up for the playoffs. This year, he’ll have a far more pivotal role.

“He is a dynamic player,” White said of Mackey. “He'll make it hard for us to take him off the court.”

Senior Sam Mefford is fighting for the second middle blocker position. Junior Jackson Meyer is battling for time as a rightside hitter. And sophomore Colton Tubbs is a defensive specialist who has already caught White’s eye.

“You know you have to look at a sophomore who stands on the opposite side of the net to Parker (Van Buren) and wants to dig everything Parker hits,” White said of Tubbs. “No fear in him. He has a great future ahead.”

Middleton has won 12 of the last 13 Big Eight Conference titles and will be the clear-cut favorites again. Madison Memorial poses the greatest challenge in league, while Kettle Moraine looms as the toughest foe in the sectional.

But the Cardinals have greater goals than just winning the league and advancing through sectionals. And Van Buren just might be the player who takes them there.

“The goal for this team is to win conference and make it back to state,” White said. “Most people know we lost a lot of talent off last year's team. I think this team will be a surprise to people.

“Most around the state know Parker. That's fine, they won't know the athletic talent we have in the rest of the line-up. State is at Green Bay this year and the team wants to go up there and compete and see if we can make that final four.”

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