Dan Wiza / Madison College Athletics Photos
Mikayla Nigl of the Madison College WolfPack, headed back to the NJCAA championships.
Remember the college volleyball team from Madison that advanced all the way to the national championship match last year? No, not the Badgers, who lost the national championship game in front of 14,779 fans in Seattle and televised on ESPN. This was the team that played in front of a few hundred people in Rochester, Minn. The other big difference: The Madison College WolfPack won.
This season, the number two-ranked WolfPack is 27-3 and returning to Rochester to defend its title, after sweeping Joliet College on Oct. 31 and Rock Valley College on Nov. 1 to win the National Junior College Athletic Association Region IV title.
In the world of junior college athletics, success can be fleeting. Players stay two years, max; few teams carry a wealth of experience. However, Toby Parker -- recently named North Central Community College Conference (N4C) Coach of the Year for the second straight year -- has found a formula that works.
Madison College features a 15-player roster composed almost entirely of players from the greater Madison area. N4C Player of the Year Hannah Grahn, a La Follette alum, played setter on last year's national championship team, and continued the role this season. Grahn, who ranks fifth in NJCAA Division III with 9.22 assists per set, has a wealth of outside hitters to choose from, but Katlynn Wirag, a sophomore from Stoughton, gets the lion's share of the WolfPack's offense. Wirag has amassed 262 kills this season, leading the team. Another sophomore, Brooke Gilbertson, also has over 200 kills on the year.
Madison College will begin defense of its title with a quarterfinal match on Nov. 14 against an opponent yet to be determined. The bracket will be seeded once all qualifiers are set, but many eyes are on number one-ranked Rochester Community and Technical College. The WolfPack handed the Yellowjackets one of the team's three losses this season back on Sept. 20.
Undoubtedly more volleyball fans will be paying attention to the Badgers again this fall. But fans, remember the team that has already reached the top of the mountain once. And may well do it again.
[Editor's note: This story is corrected to reflect that Hannah Grahn was a setter on the team for both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.]