Catholic Central's Dream Team

Top-ranked in Division 4, Catholic Central's powerful lineup features four seniors who have been starters since their freshman year. But they've been almost inseparable much longer than that.

They might as well have been sisters, as much time as they spent together. But then again, maybe they wouldn't have become such good friends that way.

Carol Henney, Samantha Oldenburg, Michelle Smith and Keena Schneider, proverbial peas in a pod. Volleyball was one of the things that brought them together, and the sport continues to cement their bond of friendship.

The four seniors have started on the varsity since they were freshmen, and soon they begin a postseason journey that could lead them and Burlington Catholic Central to a third consecutive Division 4 state championship.

Samantha Oldenburg

Coach Carol Van Henkelum calls them a dream team because of their accomplishments on and off the court, and what makes their story so interesting is that they spent most of their lives within a few blocks of each other, Henney and Smith attending St. Mary's and Oldenburg and Schneider attending St. Charles.

So, they competed with and against each other during grade school and through club programs before joining forces at Central.

"Michelle and I have been together pretty much since preschool," said Henney, who'll sign a letter of intent to play at Marquette in November. "At St. Mary's, we only had a class of about 40 kids, so everybody knew everybody. We got to know Sammy and Keena from playing against them because St. Mary's and St. Charles are huge rivals. They all started playing club volleyball a year before I did, but that's when we really got to know each other well."

"Me and Michelle have known each other since kindergarten and have been best friends since fourth grade," Oldenburg said. "It was a lot of fun playing against them. We beat them in volleyball, and they beat us in basketball."

"It was like any old, classic rivalry," Smith said, "because you played to win every time. But when the games were over, we were friends and kidding around like usual."

Carol Henney

"Sammy and I have been like sisters," Schneider said. "I'd say that Michelle and I are more talkative than Carol and Sam, but when we're all hanging out together we're crazy."

They may be crazy, but they've been nearly unbeatable on a volleyball court as all four have earned all-league honors at least twice. They also just finished undefeated in Midwest Classic competition for a fourth straight year.

The Hilltoppers have been ranked No. 1 all season in the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association poll, and that's where this foursome wants to stay.

"This was our best year, and we worked on tactics and skills every day, trying to be perfect," said Oldenburg, who has been contacted by D-1 programs such as Georgetown, Cornell and Penn State but is leaning toward not competing to concentrate on becoming a physician's assistant and would like to remain in Wisconsin. "We lost to Williams Bay (in the regional final) as freshmen and then won back-to-back, so we want to go out with a bang."

"This is what we've worked for all season," said Smith, who is thinking about walking on at Colorado State University. "Every year we were with a different group, but now we're the top dogs and we strive to improve every day. That's why we played the toughest schedule we could, to challenge ourselves."

Keena Schneider

Catholic Central proved its worthiness by participating in the Central Smash tournament at Westosha, where the Hilltoppers suffered only their second and third losses of the year, dropping matches to highly touted bigger foes Catholic Memorial (D-2) and Divine Savior Holy Angels (D-1). That and the experience of having played in and winning at the Resch Center in Green Bay makes them the favorite.

"The first time you're really nervous and the second time you're better at controlling them," Henney said. "But still, playing there is so much different than normal (matches) because it's so big and the crowd, there's really no way to prepare for that."

"The Smash tournament helped prepare us for state," said Schneider, who hasn't decided about her college career yet, although she's received attention from several D-3 state programs including Wisconsin Lutheran and Marian and wants to enter the biomedical sciences field. "We showed what we can do."

Regardless what happens during the next three weeks, they'll do it together.

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