By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
BATTLE CREEK – A championship trophy wrapped in her arms Saturday, minutes after one of the most memorable wins in recent MHSAA Volleyball Tournament history, Leland senior Maddie Trumbull said she would remember those post-match moments for the rest of her life.
And she’ll surely recall from time to time what it took over the last two years for her Comets to end the longest volleyball championship streak in MHSAA history.
A year after falling in the Final that would give Battle Creek St. Philip its record ninth-straight Class D title, Leland ended the Tigers’ dominance one win short of a decade with a 3-0 sweep – 25-20, 25-23, 25-23 – at Battle Creek's Kellogg Arena.
It probably wasn’t the mix expected to take down mighty St. Philip, whose championship streak also was tied for 10th longest in national girls volleyball history. Surrounding Trumbull on the Kellogg Arena floor were a mix of seniors and juniors, but also a sophomore and two freshmen.
But from the first point Saturday morning, the Comets got a feeling they could be champions by the afternoon for the first time since 2006 – the last season before the Tigers’ streak began.
“Being in the final four and losing in the state final last year gave us motivation right off the bat,” said Trumbull, who also was a top hitter for teams that made it to Battle Creek in 2014 and 2013. “We started thinking last year, let’s make it to the state finals (again). Let’s beat them. Let’s beat their streak. We’ve been working since day one; that was our goal, and we met our goal.”
The championship was the fifth for Leland (49-7-4) to go with six runner-up finishes. The sweep was the Comets’ six of this tournament; total, they won 24 sets and gave up only two over the last three weeks.
But the success wasn’t without some adjustments – even between Thursday’s Semifinal win over Crystal Falls Forest Park and Saturday morning’s start.
Leland, which came into the postseason ranked No. 3, didn’t pass well enough against the Trojans to employ all of its offensive options. But they cleaned up the passing for St. Philip, and four players had at least five kills, let by Trumbull’s 14 and six more apiece by freshman Allie Martin and senior ViAnna Hennig.
Freshman setter Ella Siddall found her groove leading the attack, and also had four of the team’s eight aces.
Martin and Siddall were team managers for the Comets for two seasons before joining the varsity as players this fall. Both impressed longtime coach Laurie Glass again Saturday – Siddall for making the necessary adjustments to set a great match, and Martin for continuing to play "fearlessly."
“They had been in the gym. We felt there were lots of good things to come,” said Glass, who completed her 21st season leading the program. “Did I think we could win a state championship with two freshmen? I sure was hoping we would.”
The Tigers did all they could to rally at various points throughout the Final, be it during Vicky Groat’s timeouts during Leland runs or senior Abby McKinzie’s rallying of her teammates throughout.
The four-year St. Phil standout finished with 14 kills and 17 digs, but the Tigers never could get completely out in front. Siddall ended the two-point second-set win with an ace. Trumbull decided the two-point third-set win with a kill.
St. Philip, No. 2 entering the tournament, finished 46-17-2 after defeating top-ranked Plymouth Christian in its Semifinal. The Tigers won the title in 2014 after also entering the playoffs ranked lower than No. 1 – and Groat said the inevitable end of the streak was always in the back of her mind, going back to St. Phil’s first repeat attempt nearly a decade a go.
“You never know. You can’t take it for granted. And every team is different,” Groat said “I’m thinking back the other day to the first team that started this; they’re married and have kids. They’re all different girls. They’re all different individuals, and they all just come together as a team.
“The streak is going to end some time. ... There's no shame in losing for the championship. I think of all the teams, I’ve had the most fun with this group of girls. And I feel bad for that, that I'm going to miss that group. Abby feels bad like she let me down. Nobody let me down. If anything, I let you guys down because I didn’t win it for you. I would never feel that they let me down, ever.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Leland players hoist the school’s first volleyball championship trophy since 2006. (Middle) St. Philip’s Morgan Luoma dives during a dig attempt; she finished with a team-high 20 digs.
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).