Experienced Lineup Pacing Manistique's Strong Start, Pursuit of Big Finish

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

October 11, 2022

MANISTIQUE — After achieving its first major goal, the Manistique volleyball team is looking for more this season.

The Emeralds clinched the Mid-Peninsula Conference title Oct. 4 by sweeping Negaunee. They opened this fall by winning the Kingsford Invitational Aug. 20. Their only losses took place in semifinal matches against Kingsford at the Marquette Invitational on Sept. 24 and against Charlevoix in three sets at the Rayders’ invitational a week earlier.

Manistique has been receiving honorable mention in the state Division 3 rankings, and the Indian River Inland Lakes Invitational this Saturday will provide an opportunity to potentially see not only the Division 4 No. 4 Bulldogs, but also bigger schools like Alpena, Petoskey and Sault Ste. Marie.

All should be good preparation for the Emeralds, who host their Division 3 District next month after reaching the District Final a year ago.

“We’ve really improved from the opening tournament,” said coach Amy Nixon, who took over the program in 2008. “I think our offense has really stepped up and become more dominant. I think we’ll be able to run more plays which will help us down the road.

"Last year we lost to Iron Mountain in the District. Most of the girls are back from last season. We’re looking forward to finishing what we started last season.”

Senior Nora Cunningham and juniors Ella Schuetter and Emma Jones all earned all-region honors last season. Cunningham, an outside hitter, served for four aces in the Emeralds’ 25-15, 25-9, 25-9 triumph at Westwood two weeks ago.

"Serving is one of our strengths,” she said. “We make it a priority. When we serve well, good things happen."

Jones, a setter, collected 26 assists and senior Kelsey Muth added 11 subbing against the Patriots. Jones has eclipsed 1,000 career assists this season.

“I have a lot of responsibility as a setter,” said Jones. “I set up all the plays (in a 5-1 offense), although I definitely couldn’t do it without my teammates. I think our communication has gotten better during the season. I certainly think all the time we put in during the summer gave us confidence coming into this season.”

“Communication was a factor in our loss to Charlevoix,” added senior middle hitter Sarah McDaniel. “We just have to make sure to control what we can control. In our loss to Kingsford, I think we learned to pick up our communication when times are hard. We definitely have a lot of depth on this team. Everybody is ready to go.”

Schuetter, a middle hitter, has made all-tournament teams at Marquette and Charlevoix this season, joined by Jones at the latter.

“We have real good chemistry” she said. “The most improvement I’ve seen is our drive and commitment as a team.”

Tonight’s match against Gwinn is one of five remaining along with the Inland Lakes tournament before the regular season ends. The Emeralds did earn a sweep against Iron Mountain on Sept. 19 and could see the Mountaineers again in a District rematch, with Bark River-Harris, Gwinn and Menominee also in the bracket.

“We always want to play hard competition and show who we are,” Cunningham said. “Being able to overcome adversity has been a highlight to our season. That shows how much fight this team has.”

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.

PHOTO Manistique celebrates its league championship-clinching win Oct. 4. (Photo courtesy of the Manistique volleyball program.)

After 2021 Runner-Up Finish, North Branch Ends 2022 Back On Top

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 19, 2022

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.

The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. 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’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block. 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.

Click for the full box score.

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.