The Madison West boys volleyball team needed some players to rise in 2017 after key graduation losses.
“Even though we graduated a couple all-conference guys, having nine seniors on your team really helps provide that leadership vacuum that may have been left behind,” Regents coach Aaron Blom said. “We really had a lot of guys step up and take their place.”
One of those players is senior opposite-side hitter Nick Klubertanz, a second-team All-Big Eight Conference pick last season.
This season — heading into a WIAA regional final at 7 p.m. on Friday at home against Madison East — Klubertanz has totaled 130 kills and 44 blocks while improving his overall game.
“The biggest adjustment I’ve seen Nick make is his decision-making as a hitter,” Blom said. “He started using different shots — tipping, rolling, pushing and then using his power effectively. By doing that he’s made the block adjust to him, instead of him adjusting to the block.”
Setter Duncan Beilke said the presence of Klubertanz gives him options for spreading the ball around.
“Having Nick as a backside option, where I can jack the ball to him whenever I feel I can get the ball backwards, is a great feeling as a setter,” Beilke said. “You know you have someone who can put the ball down when you need them to.”
Beilke, a senior, leads the Regents with 384 assists and 60 aces.
In a game of emotion and momentum, Beilke said he often turns to Klubertanz for support.
“I’m a very negative type of player, to be completely honest. I get down on myself a lot,” Beilke said.
“Nick is always willing to be there, whether it be a high-five or ‘Hey, Duncan, come on, that’s a fine set, you’re good.’ He’s always there as a friend and leader.”
The Regents ended the regular season at 9-9 overall and went 4-2 in conference play and 3-3 in the Big Eight tournament, finishing third behind unbeaten Middleton and Madison Memorial in both races.
The slate is wiped clean for the postseason, though, and Klubertanz and the Regents know they must keep the positive vibes rolling in order to survive and advance.
They will avoid Middleton and Madison Memorial in their sectional but, like the Purgolders, would have to contend with top-seeded teams Wales Kettle Moraine and Waukesha Catholic Memorial, both of the Classic 8 Conference.
A victory on Friday and the Regents would face Catholic Memorial or Waukesha North.
“We have a really strong offense, defense, and as long as we play our game we will have success,” Klubertanz said.
The sectional semifinal is where the Regents lost to Kettle Moraine in three sets last year.
Klubertanz said the Regents’ depth could help them go far this year.
“Last year and years prior, our goals have always been to go to state,” said Klubertanz. “It hasn’t been as realistic in the past. We haven’t always had as strong of a team as we do this year. I think this is most likely our best chance of going to state.”
West defeated East 25-20, 25-19, 28-26 to end the regular season. The Regents also beat the Purgolders in the conference tournament on Saturday. For the Regents to get by East, they first will have to stop outside hitter Sam Heiman.
“I think our main problem is going to be focusing on blocking out Sam,” Beilke said. “Really making sure he can’t get his swings off forcing him to tip and forcing him into making mistakes.”
Blom said the Regents know they need to take care of business.
“We’ve played East recently, we know their strengths and we’ll try and take those away while we keep focused on what we do best,” Blom said.
Klubertanz said his message to his teammates is to have confidence — in themselves and each other.
“Stay confident and play as a team,” Klubertanz said. “We have struggled getting down. If we can pick each other back up and have a positive attitude on the court, then we will have postseason success.”