BY KEVIN BONESKE
Having begun her senior season 21-0 in match play is the latest in multiple-win starts Taylor Wissbroecker has experienced in four years as an outside hitter on the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s volleyball team.
“We always usually start out strong,” said Wissbroecker, a 2013 Rhinelander High School graduate who notes she plans to graduate in 3 ½ years from UMD majoring in biology.
This year’s opening string of wins lifted the Bulldogs to No. 1 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II poll. However, after two consecutive match losses followed up by a win before this weekend’s pair of home matches, UMD dropped to the No. 2 spot. The No. 1 team, Concordia-St. Paul, lost Sept. 30 to the Bulldogs before the two teams’ rematch slated for Friday.
Wissbroecker said she didn’t expect the Bulldogs to drop from the No. 1 spot, though she regards a loss as an opportunity to see where the team can improve.
Going into this weekend’s matches, Wissbroecker started in all of this season’s first 24 matches, in which she played in 84 games, and recorded 231 kills and 197 digs along with 12 service aces.
She said she decided to play for UMD because “this program would allow me to be a better player.”
Wissbroecker said being in Duluth makes it possible for her family to attend UMD’s matches with Rhinelander being a drive of about 3-4 hours away. She also noted the Bulldogs have a “great fan base” with about half the team from Wisconsin and the other half from Minnesota.
In her freshman year when she only appeared in a pair of matches, Wissbroecker said the only skill she had mastered was blocking and had to “relearn volleyball” at the college level.
She said the “transition of speed” is the biggest difference she has noticed going from high school to college volleyball with the ball moving much faster and the pace of high school games now seeming slow to her, also noting tall players on the front row are the norm at the college level.
Wissbroecker’s playing time her sophomore year increased to 20 matches and 32 games, primarily as a reserve. However, she did have her first collegiate start that season when she recorded 12 kills, five service aces and a pair of blocks against Lake Superior State. Wissbroecker ended the year with 23 kills, 10 digs, seven blocks and five service aces and was also named to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s All-Academic Team.
Wissbroecker started in 30 of the 31 matches she appeared in her junior year and also received NSIC Player of the Week honors. She recorded a season-high 20 kills in a match against Minot State and also had 14 kills with a season-high 18 digs against Minnesota State University Moorhead, ending up for the season with 10 “double-doubles” in matches with at least 10 kills and digs.
However, 2015 marked the first season Wissbroecker wasn’t part of a team at UMD that advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament after finishing 23-8 overall and fifth in the NSIC at 15-5. That compared to the Bulldogs recording 33 total match victories in both her freshman and sophomore seasons when the team played in the postseason.
Given the level of competition in the NSIC, in which six conference teams were ranked in the top 10 in the latest AVCA Division II poll that came out Oct. 31, Wissbroecker said it was “very frustrating” UMD didn’t get an NCAA bid last season among the nation’s 64 teams in the tournament. She noted the Bulldogs are using that as a motivator to make it to the tournament this year.
Wissbroecker said UMD is playing good enough this season to possibly receive an at-large NCAA bid, though the team would prefer getting an automatic bid by winning the NSIC tournament.
She said the Bulldogs’ goal in 2016 is to win the NCAA Division II national championship.
After graduating in December with a bachelor’s degree from UMD, Wissbroecker said she hopes to go to dental school, for which she has applied to attend either the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, the University of Florida or in Denver.
Her younger sister, Hope Wissbroecker, a junior outside hitter at RHS, was named to the Great Northern Conference’s first team in volleyball this season.
“It would be cool is she came to UMD,” said Taylor Wissbroecker, who also noted it will be up to her younger sister as to where she wants to play volleyball after high school.