BATTLE CREEK – The state’s winningest volleyball program is back to doing what it does best – winning consecutive MHSAA Finals.
Battle Creek St. Philip won its second-straight Division 4 volleyball title Saturday, sweeping Indian River Inland Lakes 25-17, 25-12, 25-8 at Kellogg Arena.
"For me, it’s just a whole different aspect now, seeing those little girls up in the stands,” St. Philip senior Brooke Dzwik said. “That was us at one point. They’re going to be the legacy. It’s not us anymore, it’s them. To really win so that they could see means a lot.”
St. Philip now has 22 Finals titles, including a record nine straight from 2007-14. If the win a year ago in a COVID-interrupted season wasn’t enough to prove the Tigers were back, Saturday’s dominant result should more than handle that.
“Last year everyone thought that we didn’t deserve the championship,” St. Philip senior Bailey Fancher said. “This year, there was no COVID (pause), there was nothing stopping us, so we wanted to prove everyone wrong that we were made to win both last year and this year’s state championships.”
St. Philip (40-11-1) entered the postseason ranked No. 3, and defeated No. 2 Athens in the Regional Final and No. 1 Adrian Lenawee Christian in the Quarterfinal just to get to Kellogg. Getting to play the underdog was a role the Tigers relished.
“We were the underdog all last year, too,” said Dzwik, who was one of five starters who returned from last year’s team. “Part of it is the competitive nature in all of us, that we wanted to prove everyone wrong, that we shouldn’t be the underdog.”
They were not the underdog Saturday, however, playing Finals newcomer Inland Lakes, which was coming off its first Regional title since 1995.
Inland Lakes (27-11-11) didn’t seem to be fazed by the moment early on, trading blows with the reigning champions, and even responding to a 4-0 run midway through the first set with a 4-0 run of its own, tying the score at 16. But following a timeout, St. Philip rattled off eight points in a row to take control and put the first set away.
From there, it was all Tigers.
“Our hitting wasn’t as powerful today – I think they got a little nervous and frazzled as things weren’t going their way,” Inland Lakes coach Nicole Moore said. “That’s a solid team that has great hitters that we weren’t adjusting to and getting touches on. That’s been our goal the whole time, and it’s worked most of the time, but today we just weren’t able to get those touches that we needed on those big hitters.”
For the Tigers, keeping the momentum when they got it was important, as St. Philip coach Vicki Groat didn’t want Inland Lakes to build confidence during the match.
“That’s a good team, and watching them on Thursday, there was no intimidation for them,” Groat said. “They were playing relaxed, they had nothing to lose, and they were the underdogs. In this stage, if you have them down, you have to keep the momentum going, keep the pressure on until the very end. I thought we did a good job of that today.”
Dzwik led the St. Philip attack with 14 kills, but Groat was impressed with how setter Rachel Myers spread the ball around throughout the match. Maddie Hoelscher (five kills), Alexis Snyder (five kills), Alex Kersten (four kills) and Makenzee Grimm (four kills) all helped to keep Inland Lakes off balance, and not allow it to focus solely on Dzwik. Kate Doyle led the St. Philip defense with 12 digs.
Natalie Wandrie had five kills and 10 digs to lead Inland Lakes, while Ryann Clancy had 11 digs. Alyssa Byrne finished with eight assists, and Olivia Monthei had four kills.
The disappointing finish didn’t take away from the historic season for the Bulldogs, as Byrne noted, “We played volleyball as long as we could.”
“We talked about before the game, we made this visual where we have this outer ring of people – northern Michigan volleyball, we’re the only people here, right,” Moore said. “We were representing them. We were representing our conference, our region, because not a lot of northern Michigan teams make it down here. We were the smallest school and the farthest school away, and I think we had a lot of blue in the stands, so that was really cool to see.”
PHOTOS (Top) St. Philip’s Makenzee Grimm (8) gets up a block as Inland Lakes’ Olivia Monthei (6) makes a play on the ball. (Middle) The Tigers’ Brooke Dzwik (9) connects, with teammate Baily Fancher (13) nearby. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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).