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As it always has, the Nicolet girls volleyball team's Brittney Gigl Memorial Tournament celebrates a life.

And it celebrates the idea of life lived exuberantly and passionately as the former Knight volleyball player did before passing away much too soon from viral encephalitis in 2001.

No doubt, Ms. Gigl would love the energy and passion of this year's Knight team, which successfully defended its title in her namesake tournament on Oct. 1.

Because her former and still current Nicolet coach Dann Jacobson certainly does.

"There's no doubt we have the talent," said Jacobson, "but in the six or seven weeks since we really got going in August, this team has really began to jell. You really see the heart and the desire and the fun they have playing volleyball. There is just real chemistry out there."

That has translated well in recent weeks for the Knights, who are still unbeaten in North Shore Conference dual meets and earned honorable mention status in the most recent state poll.

They also defeated Homestead in a key North Shore dual on Sept. 27. They took on Milwaukee Lutheran on Oct. 4 and will be off this weekend.

As much as it is about sport, the Gigl is also about a person's life. To that end, Gigl's parents, Bob and Marta, always come to the tournament. Jacobson said they started doing something a little different a few years ago.

"We used to bring them (the Gigls) in to give out the awards and talk to the winners about Brittney's story," said Jacobson, "but we thought instead of just a few people hearing about her, why shouldn't everyone know her story? So at the lunch break, we bring everyone into the cafeteria, and we talk about Brittney. We also talk about treasuring everyday of life because tomorrow is never promised.

"We had 200 or so people in there this time around, and by the end, there were a lot of tears, a lot of emotion and a lot of hugs."

Then everyone went out and played some really good volleyball.

The Knights began the day finishing second in their pool, beating Grafton, New Berlin West and Milwaukee Riverside but falling in a close match to Appleton East.

They defeated Tosa East, 25-19, 25-21, in the quarterfinals and then had one of their seminal moments of the season in the semifinals when they beat state-ranked and likely Greater Metro Conference champion Brookfield East, 25-20, 25-23. That victory earned them a chance at a little revenge as as they came back, and as Jacobson said, "Righted the ship" against Appleton East, beating the Patriots for the title, 25-18, 25-21.

There was much for Jacobson to praise in the effort.

'The fact that we had to play seven matches was impressive," he said. "I really liked our heart and our conditioning. We were still jumping high and diving hard at the end. We really had some nice movement of the ball, too. Our serve receive was really consistent. We've made a few changes (in the lineup), but we just seem to be better in all areas."

Many players were cited, including sophomore setter Julia Rodrian, who has been the most improved player on the team since the beginning of the season, according to Jacobson. He also loves how diversified the attack has become, highlighting the work of senior middle hitters Kara Conley and Mackenzie Eford ("Not a better middle in the state," Jacobson said), as well as the efforts of junior outside hitters Leah Weiler and Cori Meyers.

"This is no doubt the tallest team we've had in quite awhile," he said.

But as he said, Jacobson said the energy and the passion are the keys with this team.

"Up until the (West Bend) Sprawl a few weeks ago, we'd played 14 or 15 ranked teams and not beaten any of them," he said, "but now in the last few weeks, we've beaten Burlington, Brookfield Central and now Brookfield East. We're still looking for that respect, but we're happy to fly under the radar.

"People also like how we play. I was talking to parents from Tosa or Brookfield afterward, and they said how much fun it was to watch us play. They noticed how hard we played and how much fun we appeared to be having. That's the best compliment I can imagine getting."

A compliment that, no doubt, Brittney Gigl would have passed onto the team, too.

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