Fighting for a postseason birth with no room for error, the Rangers swept both Maryville University and Illinois Tech volleyball in straight sets Saturday. On a weekend when two crucial wins were statistically their most celebrated accomplishment, ‘Senior Day’ made those victories seem all but trivial. Seniors Tami Gleason, Cassie Wilkens, and Rachel Burmester stepped on their home court for the final time in front of Parkside’s crowd.
“In my two years it’s been such a pleasure to coach these ladies,” said Michele Benoit, Parkside’s second-year head coach who chalked up her 40th win in 61 contests. “They’ve been accepting of me and have bought into my system…hopefully it’s served as a valuable learning experience for everyone.”
University of Wisconsin-Parkside (7-5) (19-9) hosted both Maryville (2-10) (4-24) and Illinois Tech (20-14) Saturday afternoon at DeSimone Gymnasium in Kenosha.
UW-P opened up the first match with a conference bout against the Maryville Saints, in which they pounded the visiting team, 25-16, 25-11, 25-19.
Freshman Cayla Flood dominated in all facets of the game with 21 assists, five service aces, five digs, and four kills. She set the table for outside hitters Caroline Langer and Wilkens to tally seven kills a piece.
Junior Addie Kramer led Parkside with eight kills of her own, and junior Stacie Bower anchored the defense by shoveling out 11 digs.
In an emotional moment to start the second match against Illinois Tech, senior Tami Gleason gingerly made her way out on the court for the opening serve. Gleason, a starter and team captain, suffered a torn ACL midway through the season against Missouri S & T on Oct. 1. Diagnosed as a season-ending injury, Gleason mustered up enough strength to almost win the point before being subbed out.
“We’ve fought through so much adversity as a team,” said Parkside assistant coach Jen Johnson. “Tami’s a positive role model, and the respect from her teammates has only grown this past season.”
Fueled by a courageous move from the dedicated senior, Parkside made easy work out of the Scarlet Hawks 25-20, 25-18, 25-15. The Rangers capitalized on Illinois Tech’s mistakes, and cashed in with excellent execution from their young talent especially.
Langer was excellent by producing 12 digs and 11 kills. Burmester was a force in the middle by posting five blocks, and closing out the third set with three straight service points to secure the victory for Parkside. Junior Cassy Marx displayed her versatility with four kills, four blocks, and six assists.
Wilkens was credited with seven digs and six kills, and sophomore Shannon Curtis chipped in with eight digs. Lauren La Gioia and Adrienne Uthe played stellar in reserve roles.
After the match, the three seniors were honored for their contributions to Parkside’s program. Gleason’s season may have been stopped short, but her leadership was an essential part of the team’s success. She was tabbed for All-Conference Third Team honors her junior year when Parkside totaled their most wins in more than a decade (21), and she was among the region’s top blockers. Wilkens, with 218 kills this season, is third on the team in that category. A fifth-year senior, she’s consistently been one of the most productive offensive weapons Parkside has had in the past few years.
“Our goal is still the conference tournament,” Wilkens said. “Looking back at everything though, our high point was definitely beating Indianapolis, but through all the lows, we’ve always managed to pull together as a team…we’re like a family.”
Burmester stepped up with a successful senior season after filling the place of the injured Gleason. Adjusting well to her larger role as a presence up at the net, Burmester has made great strides in being a confident blocker, and viable option offensively.
Entering the weekend, Parkside was just one-half match back of eighth place, which is the final spot to qualify for the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament. They took care of business at home, but need strong performances this weekend. Two victories to close out the year would almost secure the Rangers a playoff bid.
According to Benoit, “We still have a shot, but we need to win these games coming up and hope for some help.”
Parkside gets set to close out the regular season on the road for an opportunity to spring themselves into tournament contention. Featuring two conference matches, they start with Drury on Friday, Nov. 5 at 7 PM. Rockhurst, currently third in the circuit, hosts Parkside Saturday, Nov. 6 at 3 PM.