'Coach' Never Far from Marysville Title Dreams

December 12, 2011

2011 Volleyball Finals Previews

The same dreams have made their way around the Marysville volleyball team the last two months.

A player woke up in the middle of the night saying “Coach, Coach,” thinking she’d heard the voice of John Knuth.

Another woke up stretched out like she was about to block a spike, perhaps responding to one of his commands from the bench.

The longtime Marysville coach has been on his players’ minds for obvious reasons since leaving the Oct. 1 Mount Morris Invitational in an ambulance after suffering a heart attack.

Although recovering now, he hasn’t returned to the team and won’t for this weekend’s MHSAA Finals – the first championship weekend appearance for the storied Vikings program since 2006. But that doesn’t mean Knuth won’t have a presence at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

“It’s actually funny. The first couple weeks of practice after he was gone, if I screwed something up and I was thinking I was doing something wrong, instead of hearing my voice say it (in my head), I would hear his voice,” Marysville senior Haylee Booms said. “We became attuned to his voice.”

Class A and D Semifinals were played Thursday, with B and C tonight. Marysville (49-9-4) faces Tecumseh in their Semifinal at 7:15 p.m.

Leading the Vikings will be first-year coach Kristen Michaelis, a former Marysville and U.S. national team standout who took over the program this fall as a co-coach with Knuth – who entered the fall third in MHSAA volleyball history with 1,135 wins, a .935 winning percentage and nine MHSAA championships.

Although Knuth had previously stopped coaching the team after the 2006-07 season, these players certainly knew the significance of an opportunity to play for him. “Him telling me I did a good job, it’s just a dream come true because you know if it’s coming from him, you’ve done good,” Booms said.

Knuth and Michaelis replaced Paul Levandowski, who coached from 2007-10, and the plan was for Knuth to take the lead role early and progressively transfer responsibilities to his former middle hitter before retiring from coaching completely after the season. 

Michaelis didn’t expect to take full control so suddenly. Knuth said he didn’t feel well after that first match at Mount Morris, and then didn’t return to the floor the rest of the tournament. He left for the hospital, and although the players sensed something was up, Michaelis didn’t tell them what until after the last match of the day. The team came together for a tearful group hug.

“Obviously, it was hard for the girls to deal with, but I told them we’d all work through this together. He’s on our minds, but he would want us to push forward and have successful season,” Michaelis said. “I knew my role would have to increase. I would not just be a coach, but kind of a mentor for the girls. They are pretty big shoes to fill.”

So far, so good.

The Vikings dropped their first match after Knuth was hospitalized, three days later against Macomb Area Conference Red foe Macomb Dakota. But they bounced back to sweep the rest of their league opponents 3-0 and claim the conference championship. Marysville didn’t give up a game in the District or Regional before falling in the first against Frankenmuth – and then coming back to win the next three.

Michaelis had been a Marysville assistant the last two seasons, and played on the 1997-2000 Marysville teams that won the first of eight straight MHSAA titles. But she brought a variety of experiences back into the program – she went on to earn All-America recognition for Fresno State after high school, and then helped the U.S. team to a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games.

She’s incorporated her own drills and style, and Booms said the coaches bring different approaches both in relating to the players and motivating them to improve. 

“We always knew from the beginning that it was a special team. We knew what the potential was. But whatever happened, something just kinda clicked,” Michaelis said. “Maybe a little more to play for him. Our league is one of the best on the east side, and we knew none of the teams would come out of it undefeated. … We’re still thinking about Coach, but we’ve turned it into a positive thing, not a distraction.”At team dinners the players say a little prayer asking for Knuth to return to good health, and do the same before every game. Opponents and other schools from all over and have sent cards and other well wishes, and at Tuesday’s Quarterfinal at North Branch, Frankenmuth fans hung a sign amid those supporting their team that read “Muth Prays 4 Knuth.”

Michaelis keeps Knuth updated frequently, either directly or through messages to his son. Levandowski and other former players are among those who have come in to lend an extra hand at practices. The team is watching videos of Marysville’s MHSAA championship teams to see the level of intensity and focus necessary to accomplish the same.

Booms said the players have focused on playing with maturity and accepting little mistakes in order to move on and improve. That in turn might’ve helped them deal with this much larger dose of adversity.

And after Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win, they heard Knuth’s voice again – sort of, through Michaelis. She texted Knuth that the Vikings had advanced to Finals weekend, then relayed to her players his message telling them how proud they’d made him.

“As soon as it happened, we knew we had to work harder,” Booms said of Oct. 1. “This was going to make or break out season, but we were going to make our season. … We weren’t expected to make it this far. But the fact is we all wanted it, and we all believed in ourselves.

“We’re all dreaming.”

(TOP) One goal: Marysville's volleyball player join together before the start of Tuesday's Quarterfinal match against Frankenmuth at North Branch.
(Photos courtesy of Dusty Johnson.)

Fear the Socks: Cadillac Volleyball Success Never Out of Style

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

September 22, 2023

Cadillac’s girls volleyball team is quite accustomed to getting flack from opposing teams’ student sections about their socks.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat’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 have their sights 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.

Cassie Jenema sets for a teammate during a match. 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.”

Ari Bryant keeps the ball in play.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 SpencerTom 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).