OPINION: State-bound Cooney girls volleyball team is special

1Z5A8389_6163_FLMalcolm McIntyre | Oconomowoc Today

The OHS girls varsity volleyball team celebrates its 3-1 WIAA Sectional win over Arrowhead Saturday night at Arrowhead. The win advanced the team to the WIAA state tournament in Green Bay, starting Thursday night.

Team balances deep competitive spirit with uncommon fun and camaraderie


By Malcolm McIntyre

Oconomowoc Today Publisher

Cliches live and thrive in the sports world. It is fertile ground and we all get trapped into using them.

So I am stuck here; I can’t come up with a better way to describe this season’s OHS girls volleyball team than this: It is special.

Really. In my years of covering sports I don’t think I’ve encountered a team that is as much fun to watch.

It’s not just the sport itself–which for the uninitiated is great to watch–it’s the kids and their coaches.

The 15 girls that comprise this season’s OHS girls volleyball team are as competitive and as hungry as any team you’ll encounter.

In fact, on the court, they can be vicious–in a positive way. Just watch seniors Heather Moutvic and Leah Fenske power through spikes (Ok, spiking is a sort of discredited term, but I like it). You don’t want to be on the other side of those kill shots. Trust me.

But at the same time, watch these kids in the warm-ups. They’re having a great time. They’re having fun. They’re loving the experience, and they’re not awed by their success (33-5 and a a first-ever berth in the WIAA state tournament starting Thursday in Green Bay).

They’re yuking it up (technical term), kidding around, and dancing to the music flooding the gym. They’re even talking to players on the other team (they know each other because of the off-season club team competitions).

Pressure? Sure, but it doesn’t appear to be getting to them. Even during matches. During the season, the team often started slow, dropping first sets like it did Saturday night against Arrowhead. But you did not sense any panic. Instead, you saw confidence. They buckled down, concentrated even more, and won the next three sets and the match.

So how does this come about?

Well, there are multiple factors in play, but a key one–for any team–is the coaching. And for the OHS girls varsity volleyball team, that means Michelle Bruss.

Watch her on the sidelines during a match. Like her team, Bruss, despite the pressure that is inherent in any coaching assignment, is having fun. A former volleyball and basketball standout in college, Bruss is intense, but also relatively calm, poised, and in control. Even when things are not going the team’s way, she doesn’t panic, stomp the floor, throw chairs (sorry, Bobby Knight), or start screaming at her players.

It just isn’t in her nature. In fact, I don’t know any coach who smiles as much as she does during competition.

Says Bruss, “As the head coach, I have to stay poised, because it is important that they stay poised when they’re on the court. I also have to be confident, because they need to be confident. I have to present myself in a way that I want them to represent themselves, and our program.

Even when you talk to her after a match, Bruss is positive, upbeat, and enjoying the moment. She also hasn’t adopted coach-speak, like many coaches. Instead of meaningless, emotionless, boring platitudes, she peppers her comments with things like “that was sweet,” “very cool,” and “ we get after it.”

It’s refreshing.

Her team reflects her attitude. While loose and relaxed in the warm-ups, they’re all business once a match begins. They focus. But watch how they react after plays. Rally scoring means a point is earned by a team on every play. When the point goes to OHS the girls let their emotions loose. Watch Anna Berghoefer–Ms. Excitement–or Natalie Perrault. Look at their facial expressions. Watch them come together after plays with their arms around each other.

This team of seniors, juniors, and sophomores seems incredibly together. Granted, it is easier to be together when you have a small roster (unlike a sport like football where they are upwards of 90 kids on a team), but this team’s mix seems to get along really well. Again, this is a tribute to Bruss and her assistant coaches Caitlin Crouse, and Lindsey Gosh (a former OHS standout).

A mix of grades like this can a challenge with differing levels of maturity, experience, and skills, but Bruss has handled it well. For example, Arrowhead started all seniors Saturday night. OHS countered with a lineup of two seniors, two juniors and two sophomores. Managing that  is not always easy, add this to the list of Bruss’ accomplishments.

In addition, one of this team’s strengths is its depth. In the past, this was not always the case. This season it is. Big time. Bruss has the luxury of being able to shuffle players in and out of a match as the circumstances dictate, and this season when injuries limited playing time for two of her senior stars, Moutvic and Fenske, other players stepped into ensure that the wins kept coming.

Everyone on this team can play, and players like Jazmyn Trudeau, Kaitlyn Kluge, and Carly Christopherson have all made major contributions off the bench.

Thursday night at the Resch Center in Green Bay, OHS takes on Neenah, a team that is regularly one of the best in the state. It will be an extremely tough challenge for OHS, which has demonstrated that it now belongs in any discussion of the state’s best teams.

Win or lose, this team is special (cliche time again) and so is the girls volleyball program at OHS. Bruss, now in her seventh season at the head of the program and ninth overall at OHS (she coached the junior varsity for two years before stepping up to the varsity) has built a team that exhibits all the best in high school athletics. It competes, wins, and has fun. Isn’t this what it is all about?

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