After Injury Brings Past Standout Home, Slack Takes Milan on Historic Trip

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

November 21, 2023

MILAN – Makenna Slack turned 21 in August, just days before she started her first season as the Milan volleyball coach.  

Southeast & BorderLittle did she know that four months later she would lead the Big Reds to their greatest season in school history. 

“I think this season, this run, over the last three weeks, as a Milan player or coach, this was the biggest high I’ve seen from the Milan program,” Slack said. “It was an amazing run and amazing year. It was the best way we could have represented Milan.”  

Milan never had won back-to-back District championships before these last two seasons, and never had won a Regional title. Slack’s Big Reds ended up going 29-7-2, finished second in the Huron League behind perennial power Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, won District and Regional titles and reached the Semifinals at Kellogg Arena.  

Milan ended up bowing out with a loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic, ending the season as one of the four remaining teams left in Division 2. 

How the Big Reds got there made the postseason run even more remarkable.  

Slack played four varsity seasons at Milan after moving to the area in eighth grade. She went on to play volleyball at Olivet College but suffered a devastating knee injury that cut short her career. She had knee reconstruction surgery. 

“I basically couldn’t walk or drive for six months,” she said. “The recovery was going to take a year and a half to get back to being an athlete. I decided to cut my losses and moved home.” 

Milan varsity volleyball coach Kathy Bradshaw knew Slack was home again and asked if she was interested in coaching. Bradshaw got the idea because she was the junior varsity coach at Milan when Slack was a senior player on the team. 

“I was the varsity captain, and I’d come down and help run the practices sometimes,” Slack said. “That’s where I think she saw me as maybe a coach.” 

It wasn’t her first coaching opportunity. While in high school she coached club volleyball as a way to earn extra money. 

“As a high schooler, I didn’t really realize it, but I took on a little bigger role than most high schoolers do,” she said. “I had my own team, and we went to tournaments and stuff. It started there. It came natural to me. I felt comfortable teaching kids.” 

Slack surveys her team's play during its first trip to Kellogg Arena.She was the Milan JV coach for one season, then Bradshaw’s assistant in 2022 when Milan won its first District title since 1999 and reached the Regional Final. Not long after last season, Bradshaw stepped down but encouraged Slack to apply for the head coaching position. Slack wasn’t sure. 

“It seemed like a lot, and I’m so young,” Slack said.  

“I ended up applying and got the job. After really thinking about it, I ended up taking it. We have a huge support system in the community. The athletic director is amazing, there is a really good booster group. Feeling the support all around me, I ended up taking the job.” 

She had her 21st birthday during the annual MHSAA preseason downtime at the start of August. The following week she was running tryouts for the volleyball team. 

Milan had a good season. 

“When we were going through league play, we were a solid unit,” she said. “We would win the games we were supposed to win and lose the games we were supposed to lose. It became a little robotic. We weren’t really challenged. No one really challenged us, and we never really challenged anyone.” 

Then came the District tournament and a first-round match against Lenawee County Athletic Association champion Adrian Madison. Madison took the first two sets, but Milan rebounded to win three straight and the match. Slack was surprised. She’s still not sure if the Big Reds upset Madison or if Milan was the favorite. 

“That was such a huge moment,” she said. “It was very fulfilling. It felt like we were on top. Our postseason run was for sure the highlight of our season. The girls maxed out, their energy was maximum. It was definitely our highlight.” 

Milan took another step the following week by winning the Regional, then beat Dearborn Divine Child in the Quarterfinals. 

“The girls are an amazing group,” she said. “It’s the best group we’ve had since I’ve been there. The team bonding was strong, the camaraderie was strong. I have a lot of athletes on my team that understand goals and the process you have to do to get to the goal. Having a lot of athletes on board for the full ride made the difference.” 

The Big Reds had just three seniors, including their best all-around player in Courtney Nye. They will return Malea Wourman, named the team’s best offensive player, and Lauryn Parris, named the team’s top defensive player.  

Slack will graduate from Wayne State University soon and is unsure what her future holds. If she gets a job in the financial field, for example, her coaching career might be over. 

“It’s really up in the air right now,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to move on with my life or stay in the coaching game. It’s a weird spot to be in.” 

Slack loved her time at Milan, both as a player and being part of the coaching staff. If she does have to give it up for now, she can see herself returning to the sidelines someday. If not, she can step aside knowing she helped Milan to its biggest volleyball achievement to date.  

“Working with young athletes and being able to guide them is something I truly enjoy,” she said. “I’m thinking at some point I’ll be back into the coaching game.”

Doug DonnellyDoug 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) Milan volleyball coach Makenna Slack, kneeling, huddles with her team during last week's Division 2 Semifinal. (Middle) Slack surveys her team's play during its first trip to Kellogg Arena.

Performance of the Week: Clarkston Everest Collegiate's Sarah Bradley

November 22, 2023

Sarah BradleySarah Bradley ♦ Clarkston Everest Collegiate
Junior ♦ Volleyball

The 6-0 outside hitter had 31 kills – tied for sixth-most in an MHSAA Final – with a .419 hitting percentage and 18 digs as Everest Collegiate came back from a two-set deficit to defeat No. 4-ranked Leland in five in Saturday’s Division 4 championship match at Kellogg Arena. The first Finals title in program history capped a tournament run that saw the Mountaineers also win their first Regional title. Everest entered the postseason ranked No. 10 in Division 4 and finished 32-4-2.

Bradley finished the season with 420 kills, adding 15 in a Quarterfinal win over No. 6 Marlette and 25 in a five-set Semifinal victory over top-ranked Adrian Lenawee Christian during which Everest also came back after losing the first two sets. Bradley was named to the Division 4 all-state first team after earning an honorable mention as a sophomore. She also plays basketball, softball and soccer for the Mountaineers and is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field as she begins contemplating her college possibilities.

@mhsaasports 🏐POW: Sarah Bradley #volleyball #bump #set #spike #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

@mhsaasports 🏐POW: Sarah Bradley #tiktalk #questiontime #part2 #gilmoregirls #instagram #culvers #thumbsup #smileyface #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

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Past 2023-24 Honorees

Nov. 17: Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10:
Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3:
Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27:
Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20:
Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13:
Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5:
Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29:
MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22:
Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15:
Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8:
Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1:
Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report

(Photos courtesy of the Clarkston Everest Collegiate athletic department.)