2014 was a banner year for Pointers volleyball as the team made it to Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Championship.
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point finished as national semi-finalists under head coach Abbey Sutherland, who has been coach of the year in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for two years and made UWSP a contender for a national championship with records of 35-5 and 33-5.
“It’s been awesome and a great experience,” Sutherland said. “Making this program what I had envisioned and finding players who bought in. Experiencing that success from last year really helps because it makes you want it more.”
With a 33-5 record, UWSP won the WIAC championship a second straight year and made it back to the Final Four but the experience was different.
“Last year we didn’t know what to expect, but this year we knew what we wanted to do and how far we would go,” said junior middle Emma Brunkhorst. “Last year each win we were happy with it, but this year we weren’t going to be happy if we didn’t get further.”
According to Sutherland, the loss in the Final Four was more crushing this year than in 2013.
“I didn’t even look at the bracket,” Sutherland said. “ Last year we played out of our minds and had no idea what the national championships were like. This year we knew what was in front of us and the experience helped us.”
The experience of the players from 2013 was shown as UWSP was led by team captains Brunkhorst, senior outside Sarah Breuer, and senior setter Alexis Hartman. Hartman was named to the NCAA Division III Championship All-Tournament Team. Hartman became the first ever two-time WIAC Player of the Year winner.
In her third year at UWSP, Brunkhorst made the Midwest All-Regional team, First Team All-WIAC for a second straight year and an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American.
“I think I provided some stability on the court this year,” Brunkhorst said.
Sutherland thought Emma rose to the occasion several times.
“I told our setter Alexis to keep giving her the ball because I believed Emma could still get kills even with blocks in front of her,” Sutherland said.
The journey to the Final Four was a different road for UWSP.
“We started off the season with the highest expectations in history of Pointers volleyball,” Sutherland said. “It started out as a challenge to handle in a positive way the success we had the year before, and that was our journey at the beginning to find a way to play with pressure.”
UWSP struggled early to win, including a loss to conference rival UW-Oshkosh.
“At first, we did not handle that pressure well,” Brunkhorst said. “We sat down and had that talk of how we wanted the season to go because it wasn’t going the way we want. From there, we worked on getting better each practice, being prepared for matches, not worrying about the pressure and focus on being better.”
The Pointers regrouped after the loss to UW-Oshkosh and went on a 20 match win streak including a big win at UW-Whitewater. Sutherland said this was a key moment in the season giving the team more confidence and momentum.
Sutherland’s plan for next season is to find players who are going to step up for the team.
“I’m already excited for next year,” Sutherland said. “Plan of attack is to get a stellar recruiting class of incoming freshman. ”