By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Lake Orion will play for its first MHSAA volleyball championship Saturday.
The No. 2-ranked Dragons, previously Class A runners-up in 2011, downed top-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy in five sets in their Semifinal on Friday to earn a spot in this season’s Division 1 Final at Kellogg Arena.
Senior Paige Briggs – a Miss Volleyball Award finalist this fall – had 43 kills as Lake Orion (67-6) twice fought back from one-set deficits. The 43 kills are tied for fifth-most in one match in MHSAA history.
The Dragons won the fourth set 25-20 and edged Mercy (52-3) in the final set 15-13.
Senior Wren Macaulay had 53 assists and three aces for Lake Orion. Junior Jess Mruzik led Mercy with 27 kills and three blocks, and sophomore Julia Bishop had 44 assists.
Division 1: Rockford 3, Northville 1
The No. 7 Rams won the final two sets to return to the championship match for the second time in three seasons after finishing runners-up in 2016.
Seniors Lindsay Taylor and Emmy Webb split the attack, Webb with 21 kills off a .514 kill percentage and Taylor with 20 kills. Senior Emilee Karelse had 52 assists for Rockford (47-11-1).
Northville, ranked No. 8 entering the postseason, was led by sophomore Jenna Boksha’s 11 kills plus 10 digs. Senior Gabriella Fisette had 24 assists for the Mustangs (47-7-1).
Division 4: Mendon 3, Southfield Christian 0
Mendon will play for its first championship since 2001 after a Semifinal performance that improved the No. 2 Hornets to 48-6-3.
Sophomore Anna Smith led Mendon both with 20 kills and nine digs, and senior Aubrey Crotser had 31 assists.
Junior Emily Van Dyke had 13 kills for No. 4 Southfield Christian (27-10-3), and junior Caitlin Warnshuis added 10. Senior Rachel Stiteler had 20 assists. The Semifinal was the first in Eagles program history.
Division 4: Leland 3, Carney-Nadeau 0
Leland’s powerful seniors led the way as the top-ranked Comets earned a chance to win their first championship since 2015.
Senior Ella Siddall had 34 assists and five aces, while senior Hanna Elwell had 17 kills for Leland (47-10-1).
Carney-Nadeau, also playing in its first Semifinal in this sport, got a big defensive performance from junior Alanis Harris, who had 22 digs. The No. 9 Wolves finished 26-4-1.
PHOTO: Lake Orion celebrates advancing to the Division 1 championship match after Friday’s Semifinal.
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 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.
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).