CARNEY — It has often been said practice makes perfect.
So far that has applied to the Carney-Nadeau Wolves, who have won all 10 of their volleyball meets this season. They are ranked No. 9 in Division 4 by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association.
“We spend a lot of time together on and off the court,” said senior outside hitter Taylor Kedsch, who recorded 10 kills and four digs against Munising in the team’s most recent match last week. “That helps our communication and helps us jell as a team.
“We didn’t really expect to be undefeated, but we’ve worked hard. When we were under ‘stay at home’ orders (due to Covid-19), I did some weight training at home. Then, we got to a point (5-6 weeks later) where we could practice once a week. It definitely felt great to get together again.”
Senior hitter Liana Blahnik, who collected 12 service aces, seven kills, two blocks and eight digs against Munising, also stayed in shape by doing some workouts at home.
“We’re kicking off the season real well,” she said. “We’ve cleaned up a lot of things and been improving steadily. Having to wear a mask during matches and practices has worked real well for us. It’s safer and not much of a problem.”
Senior setter Haley Ernest tallied 26 assists and seven digs in her latest outing.
“I feel it’s working pretty well,” she said. “I look to see who’s hitting well. When (Coach Steve Kedsch) finds a hole, he lets us know. We work real well together. Our team chemistry and communication have really picked up. During the ‘stay at home’ orders, a friend of mine who’s in college and I would skype and do practices together, which I think really helped.”
Among the Wolves’ achievements is a 25-19, 25-17 triumph over Kingsford in the final round of their quadrangular meet Sept. 26.
“That was probably our best match,” said Taylor Kedsch. “We were doing pretty well defensively. I think our team is doing real well. We’re grateful for everything.”
Coach Kedsch has similar thoughts about this season.
“We were fortunate enough to know we were going to have a season,” he said. “The girls came into the season in pretty good shape. Our seniors did a good job leading the juniors and motivating them. Our role players are getting better. Mel Baumler and Mackenzie Walcher have kind of gone to a place where they needed to be. I give a lot of credit to the girls for accepting different roles. This is a different game from jayvees. This is a faster game. We can only control what we can control. We try to run a fast-paced game.”
Coach Kedsch says serving has been a key to the Wolves’ success.
“We knew we had good servers on this team,” he said. “But we’ve been serving more than 92 percent as a team which was a surprise.
“This has been such an enjoyable season for me. We’ve gotten great support from our assistant coaches Dale Harris and Maisy Johnson and we have a senior group that’s so dedicated to the sport. They’re very focused and doing well this season. Give credit to the kids for buying into the program, taking ownership and providing input.”
Next up for the Wolves is a trip to Peshtigo, Wis. Monday.
“Taylor and I play on a club team with some of the Peshtigo girls,” said Ernest. “We’ve gotten to know them pretty well. We can put a game plan together. It should be a good match.”
Blahnik is also looking forward to Monday’s match.
“I think that will be a good challenge,” she said. “We’re going to have to know where their strengths are and make our adjustments.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS: (Top) Carney-Nadeau’s Taylor Kedsch (10) unloads a spike against Bark River-Harris during a match this season. (Middle) The Wolves Liana Blahnik (9) spikes the ball against Crystal Falls Forest Park. (Photos courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press.
BATTLE CREEK – Natasha Bickel had an up-close look the last time North Branch won a Finals volleyball title. As a ball girl, she was able to watch the Broncos take home a championship at Kellogg Arena.
On Saturday, Bickel got to experience being on the court to win one.
“I remember when I was a ball girl one of the years we won states (2016) and one of the years we didn’t,” Bickel, a senior middle hitter, said. “Except for last year, we haven’t really came this far. Coming back here, being in the Finals and winning it? It put the cherry on top.”
Bickel and the Broncos defeated Cadillac 31-29, 25-18, 25-17 in the Division 2 Final. It was the fourth title for the program, and first since 2016.
“We put a lot into this,” Bickel said. “We’ve poured our lives into this sport. It’s really awesome. This was our goal since we were little. As we were going up every year we were pushing for it, and last year we came so, so close to doing it. We added a freshman and she’s amazing, and everybody is healthy this year. It was just really, really awesome.
North Branch was the Division 2 runner-up a year ago, losing to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the Final. The Broncos downed the Irish in the Regional Final this year, and didn’t drop a set the rest of the way, sweeping Mount Morris in the Quarterfinal and Grand Rapids South Christian in the Semifinal.
So it may have caught some off guard when Cadillac had some early success Saturday night.
Cadillac had North Branch (53-7) on the ropes quickly, jumping out to a 16-9 lead in the first set and forcing the Broncos to take a pair of timeouts over a five-point span.
Vikings middle hitter Carissa Musta, who stands 6-foot-4, was a major reason for that. She had three straight blocks, four total, and two kills during a 10-point run.
While North Branch scrambled to find a way to hit around her, it struggled to get into its offense, and went down 10 before starting to dig out.
“I just said, keep battling guys, keep battling,” North Branch coach Jim Fish said. “That’s the mark of a good team that they’re not going to give up. We didn’t panic, which was good. That’s a huge comeback.”
When the Broncos did dig out, it led to an epic end of the set. North Branch fought off eight Cadillac set points before finally taking the lead back at 29-28.
Freshman Aubree Deshetsky, who kept the Broncos alive initially with four straight high-pressure serves, had the final three kills of the set to put it away. She had eight kills total in the set.
“Aubree Deshetsky’s a stud,” Fish said. “She’s a stud, she does a lot for our team. We had everybody back, and she forced her way into our lineup. She’s just a great player. She’s going to be heard for the next three years.”
While the first-set defeat could have been a back-breaker for a Cadillac team looking to pull an upset, it did not wilt. The Vikings stood toe-to-toe with the Broncos in the second set, despite playing from behind for nearly all of it.
Cadillac (34-11-4) even tied the set at 18 before Bickel helped North Branch rattle off the final seven points to take it. Bickel had three kills in the final stretch, showing off power and finesse in the process.
The Broncos flexed their muscle in the third set, building a 20-8 lead with eight straight points – seven on Bickel’s serve. Her block then put North Branch a point away, and the match was won on a service error.
“If we could have just gotten one of those set points (in the first set), who knows what would have happened,” Cadillac coach Michelle Brines said. “I was really proud of my team, because I don’t know that people gave us much of a chance at all. And, we just played really tough. We played pretty tough for the first set and a half, then it kind of seemed like we were running out of steam a little bit and they were asserting their will.”
Deshetsky finished with 13 kills and 14 digs for the Broncos, while Clara Gyomory had 12 kills and Bickel had 11. Alana Deshetsky finished with nine kills and 22 digs, Hailey Green had 25 digs and Adrienne Greschaw had 45 assists for the Broncos.
Musta led Cadillac with 16 kills and seven blocks. Brooke Ellens had 23 digs, and Cassie Jenema had 30 assists and 17 digs.
PHOTOS (Top) North Branch celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. (Below) Cadillac’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block.