The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh women’s volleyball team is off to a remarkable start.
Now it’s time to give them a remarkable home crowd.
UW Oshkosh will host its first-ever Community Night next week, opening the Kolf Sports Center doors with free admission for the Titans’ Tuesday night match against UW-Stevens Point.
The UWO team enters the weekend with a 14-0 record, the best start for the volleyball program in nearly a decade. The hot start comes after a 2022 season where the Titans won 19 straight regular season matches before claiming their first NCAA tournament match in 13 years.
Not only will Tuesday night’s 7 p.m. contest feature two nationally ranked regional rivals facing off in conference play, the Community Night promotion is also an attempt at breaking the NCAA Division III attendance record for regular season women’s volleyball.
Slaying from the start
At 14-0, the Titans are off to the best start for the program since 2014, when the team opened with 15 straight wins.
They entered the week ranked No. 3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. On Wednesday night they extended their winning streak, defeating UW-Whitewater for the first time since 2015—on the Warhawks’ home court and in a 3-0 sweep, no less. UW-Whitewater entered the match ranked No. 7, meaning it was the Titans’ third sweep of a ranked opponent already this season.
This weekend the UWO squad heads to the Stevens Point Invitational, where they’ll play three matches Friday and Saturday. If they vanquish Ripon College, Aurora University and North Central College, they’ll return to a packed Kolf Sports Center Tuesday night seeking an 18th consecutive win.
The Stevens Point team coming to Oshkosh, meanwhile, entered the week ranked No. 20 and just swept UW-River Falls on Wednesday to move to 9-2 on the season.
Anyone at anytime
UWO women’s volleyball head coach Jon Ellmann ’12 and ’14 MSE, said the early success can be attributed to an “iron sharpens iron” approach to practice.
“I think the depth and balance of our team is probably the calling card at this point in the season,” said the seventh-year coach. “In every position there’s depth beyond what you see in a statistical category, so our ability to compete at a really high level in our practice gym is really the primary reason we’re able to do some of the things we’ve been able to do on the court.”
“We’ve had people tee off at just about every position in different matches,” he said, “and then, on the flipside of that coin, when somebody struggles, there’s depth, two or three positions deep.”
That depth and balance includes a mix of both experienced juniors and seniors, and younger players stepping into more significant roles.
Sami Perlberg is a freshman outside hitter who stepped into a role last year filled by Carissa Sundholm, who in her senior year led the team in kills and earned All-America honorable mention. It’s now Perlberg leading the Titans in kills.
Like her coach, Perlberg said team chemistry is a big reason for the win streak.
“We all connect very well, no matter who is on the court,” said the pre-business major from Chippewa Falls. “When we step on the court, everybody has trust in everybody else. There’s no person that’s worried about how somebody else is playing and everybody knows everybody has their back.”
Other major contributors on the court include sophomores Izzy Coon, Riley Dahlquist and Hannah Moe. Then there are players like junior Abby Fregien, a third-team All-American last season; senior Riley Kindt, who earned all-conference honors a year ago; and senior Amelia Hust, who just passed 1,000 career digs, continuing to be difference-makers with the experience of last year’s tournament run on their side.
While last year the program welcomed in 10 first-year players, then another six this year, it doesn’t feel like a young group, Ellmann said.
“The IQ is through the roof with this group,” he said. “There’s a high level of emotional intelligence, like they’re old souls.”
An example of that can be seen in the mindset heading into Community Night, where they’ll hopefully be competing in front of a packed Kolf.
“The important part is just stepping out playing how we can,” Perlberg said. “Not worrying about who’s in the crowd or anything like that—keeping our head in the game and on our side and not worrying about any outside factors.”
Records are made to be broken
The current Division III volleyball regular season attendance record of 3,051 was set when Hope College hosted rival Calvin University in 2013.
Attendance records have been falling left and right in NCAA volleyball. Earlier this month, Wisconsin and Marquette faced off at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee in front of more than 17,000 people, setting a new Division I attendance record for an indoor regular season match. And late last month Nebraska and Omaha played in front of more than 92,000 people at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, setting a new outdoor record.
UWO’s Kolf Sports Center is the largest home venue for a women’s volleyball team in Division III with a capacity of 5,600. It’d take less than that to break the record that’s stood for a decade—but still a remarkable achievement for the program and the University.
Maybe just one of many for this season of Titans volleyball.
UW-Stevens Point vs. UW Oshkosh
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26
Where: Kolf Sports Center, 785 High Ave., Oshkosh
Bonus: The first 1,000 attendees also will receive a free UWO fan, courtesy of 4Imprint.