MONROE – After leading the Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central volleyball team into the Division 3 championship match last season, coach Cassie Haut had to apply for the Kestrels coaching job.
That’s because when SMCC reached the Finals in 2021, Haut was officially the co-head coach with Karen O’Brien.
“Oh, yeah, I had to go through the interview process and everything,” Haut said. “I met with the athletic director and other school officials. I was excited when I got the job.”
Haut certainly earned it.
SMCC officially billed Haut and O’Brien as co-head coaches when the 2021 season began. Haut was in charge of the team’s day-to-day activities and O’Brien – who led SMCC to Division 3 Finals titles in 2019 and 2020 – would help out as often as possible after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the fourth time.
O’Brien ended up being around the program often, including during the Kestrels’ postseason run.
When the season ended, however, O’Brien stepped aside, paving the way for a new coach to lead the ultra-successful SMCC program that has reached 10 Finals since 2003, and won seven of them.
Haut doesn’t feel added pressure as the next SMCC coach to maintain that level of success.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m honored to be able to be part of this legacy.”
Haut played basketball, softball and volleyball at SMCC and was part of two championship volleyball teams – in Class C in 2012 and 2014 – under head coach Diane Tuller. The 2015 SMCC grad also had an outstanding career at Eastern Michigan University, earning all-freshman team honors for the Mid-American Conference and twice being named first team all-MAC. In 2018 she was named the MAC Tournament MVP.
Soon after Haut’s college graduation, O’Brien – who was an SMCC assistant during Haut’s high school senior year – called her and asked if she wanted to be part of the program now as a coach.
“It was something that I always thought of doing,” Haut said. “After graduating, I remember thinking ‘What’s next?’ Coaching was something I felt I wanted to do. It helps keeps me part of the game that I love.”
SMCC graduated several seniors from the 2020 championship squad and had to do some rebuilding in 2021. O’Brien was there to put together some of the pieces, then helped mentor Haut as she guided the team through much of its 36-12 run. During the MHSAA Tournament run, O’Brien would funnel postgame questions to Haut, preferring to stay out of the limelight.
It was still, however, a dual coaching role until Haut took over the job.
“I was building up practice plans and ideas for the season just in case I was hired,” Haut said. “I had some things in my mind that I wanted to do. It’s nothing too crazy, but I just added my own touches.
Last year, for example, it was O’Brien who organized summer practices and helped build the regular-season schedule.
“I missed out on those parts of it, so it was something I was looking forward to this year,” Haut said. “It was exciting. We’re still in the same great tournaments that SMCC loves to go to.”
Haut is meshing the experiences she had as a player and coach to form her own coaching style and program.
“All of the coaches I’ve played for and coached with have a slightly different idea of the game,” she said. “The game has evolved in different ways. As I have gone through high school and college as a player, I felt like I learned more depth to the game every year. Then, since I’ve been coaching, I feel like it’s gone to another level.”
Before this season started, Haut had her players write down their goals.
“I want to learn everything I can about the girls,” she said. “It’s not just about volleyball, but life. My college coach really believed that. I’m excited to be part of these girls’ lives.”
Haut comes from an athletic family and has been around sports all her life.
Her father Chris played baseball at the University of Toledo. Her sister Mikayla was a four-time all-state volleyball player and Miss Volleyball finalist, and is coming off a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rookie of the Year award at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Sister Maddie earned all-conference honors and helped Ave Maria University win its conference title a year ago. Brother CJ was an outstanding basketball player for the Air Force Academy.
SMCC is primed for more success this year. Haut welcomes back a solid senior group that has already showed off its leadership skills. The Kestrels will be among favorites as they seek to make a fourth-straight trip to Battle Creek.
“From the time we got into the gym, they have been leaders,” Haut said.
Two freshmen played key roles a year ago, McKenna Payne and Jessica Costlow. Payne rang up 465 kills, 360 digs and 86 aces during her ninth-grade season while Costlow had 414 kills, 275 digs and 59 blocks.
Last year, SMCC lost in the Division 3 Final to Reese. After taking a 2-0 lead in the match, the Kestrels dropped the final three games 25-15, 25-21, 16-14.
“I like a lot of what I saw in the scrimmage. It was good to get some different lineups together, and we have a deep bench,” Haut said. “I see a ton of potential with this team.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cassie Haut, middle, talks with her Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central team last season as co-varsity coach with Karen O’Brien, right. (Middle) Haut signals to her teammates while starring at Eastern Michigan. (Top photo by Tom Hawley. Middle photo courtesy of the EMU athletic department.)
Cadillac’s girls volleyball team is quite accustomed to getting flack from opposing teams’ student sections about their socks.
That’s not likely to continue much longer though, thanks to the Vikings’ performance on the court and major college teams becoming similarly equipped.
And their new warm-up shirts tell it all.
“My team has always worn knee socks,” said 23-year veteran Cadillac coach Michelle Brines. “So people will make fun of the team, or they’ll cheer ‘put your socks down’ and this kind of thing.
“This year we finally got shirts saying ‘Fear the Socks,’” she continued. “The knee socks were in back in the day, and we’ve always worn them.”
Now college powerhouse clubs like Texas and Nebraska wear knee socks. The Cornhuskers just went back to them last season — a year calumniating with an appearance in the national championship match. Nebraska and Texas regularly make runs to and beyond the NCAA Elite Eight.
Under Brines, Cadillac too is used to deep postseason runs including six MHSAA Semifinal appearances. The Vikings made their first appearance in the Division 2 Final last November, falling to North Branch.
Cadillac is off to a 17-3-2 start this fall preparing for Division 1 competition, as they moved into that division for this season. The Vikings haver their sites on another Big North Conference championship too as they prepare for District play in Grand Haven at the end of October. Cadillac is 4-1 in league play.
The Vikings have been led again this year by all-state middle hitter Carissa Musta. The 6-foot-4 senior is handling the pressure well. Teams celebrating a block of Musta’s hit are quickly shaken off, according to Brines.
“It’s got to be tough when somebody gets all crazy because they just blocked you, but Carissa is very composed,” Brines said. “She never comes off the floor.
“She’s pretty darn good in the back row,” Brines continued. “I am very impressed with her growth and composure.”
Musta topped the 1,000-kill mark earlier this season and became the school’s career leader in blocks this week in a three-set win over Petoskey.
Senior Makenzie Johns, a 6-1 outside hitter, is also an offensive powerhouse for the Vikings. Senior setter Cassie Jenema comes through regularly with kills in addition to her strong defense and serving.
“We have 11 players on our team, and they all play an important role,” Brines noted. “Even though we have a few that really, really stand out, we are not going to be successful if we’re not all doing our job.”
The Vikings also regularly feature three sophomores: Ari Bryant, Grace Zubak and Sophia Clough. All three were on the freshman team last year because of the team’s depth.
Cadillac shared the Big North championship last year with Traverse City Central. They both suffered home losses to each other but picked up road wins. That trend has continued this year as Central handed Cadillac its lone league loss in five sets on the Vikings’ court. They will play again Oct. 4 in Traverse City.
Brines is pleased with her team’s progress at midseason. The Vikings host Alpena on Wednesday and then battle in the Portage Invitational.
“I have never had a season moving people around as much as I have,” Brines said. “I expect to see a lot of growth out of my team as we go into the second half of the season.”
Brines hopes the Vikings will make a run to the Final again this fall so she can become accustomed to a new routine.
“We finally broke through and won that (Friday Semifinal) night game and got to play the next day, which had never happened,” Brines recalled. “I didn’t really know what to do because usually I was going out for dinner with my team because we lost.”
The knee socks are the Vikings' signature also at the freshman and junior varsity levels. “We have all of our levels wear them — it is kind of our thing,” Brines pointed out. “When we walk in we have knee socks, people know we’re Cadillac.
“It’s kind of fun,” she continued. “I am old school.”
Crew socks are allowed in practice, however. Brines and the Vikings seriously considered getting away from their long-standing tradition.
“I used to make them wear them in practice,” Brines said. “One of my players that went on to coach some college and be a head coach herself said ‘Coach, you can’t do (stop wearing them) because that’s what you kind of always done and nobody else wears knee socks.’”
A spokesperson for Nebraska said there’s no real reason Nebraska went back to wearing long socks beyond player preference, and that it seems like that trend is coming back in volleyball.
“Very cool,” Brines said with a smile when she learned of the Cornhuskers response. “So basically, we never went out of style.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cadillac's McKenzie Johns unloads on an attempt during a match. (Middle) Cassie Jenema sets for a teammate during a match. (Below) Ari Bryant keeps the ball in play. (Photos by Marc Vieau/Cadillac News).