Mendon Makes Good on Great Expectation

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 17, 2018

BATTLE CREEK – It took the Mendon volleyball team only one tournament to realize how good it was this season, and the Hornets certainly weren’t shy about making big proclamations. 

“We started really early,” senior outside hitter Hayley Kramer said. “Our first tournament we were like, ‘We’re going to be state champions.’” 

Mendon made good on that claim Saturday, sweeping Leland 25-16, 25-21, 25-14 to claim the Division 4 title at Kellogg Arena. It was the program’s fourth MHSAA Finals championship, and first since 2001.  

“It’s been our goal the whole entire season,” senior middle blocker Mackenzie Urick said. “We have a goal sheet, and that’s the top. Our mindset, that’s where it was, to win state. One game at a time, just to get here.” 

The drive to get to Battle Creek and walk out victorious began more than a year ago, as the Hornets (49-6-3) were stung by a District Final loss to eventual Class C champion Bronson. While nobody could fault Mendon for suffering from a tough draw, the players were having none of it and set out to make sure they didn’t have that feeling again. 

“After losing in the District Finals … it hurt,” senior middle blocker Cierra Nightengale said. “So we practiced, practiced, practiced. (First-year coach Heather Bowers) wasn’t even officially hired yet and we were in the gym practicing because we just wanted to get the season started. We knew our potential, and we just did it.” 

Mendon dominated throughout the postseason, dropping just one set during its seven-match run to the championship. It swept both of matches at Kellogg Arena, as it had defeated No. 4 Southfield Christian 25-18, 25-15, 25-13 in a Semifinal on Friday. 

It was top-ranked Leland (47-11-1), however, that was able to create the first bit of space between the two teams Saturday, going up 7-4 in the first set. But a Mendon timeout changed everything. The Hornets – ranked No. 2 heading into the postseason – went on a 5-0 run after the timeout, and controlled play through the rest of the set before taking it 25-16.  

Leland led for much of the second set, but Mendon kept within striking distance and struck late to pull away for a 25-21 win to put itself one set away from the title. 

“I think we just go hard every single point,” Nightengale said. “We go little games of five, which I think is what a lot of coaches teach, little games of five until you get to 25. The second game, they were up 19-16 or whatever, and we were like, ‘OK, time to push more.’ And we came out with the win.” 

The third set was controlled by Mendon from early on, and as it went on, the Hornets’ confidence seemed to grow. Fittingly, it ended with an ace from sophomore outside hitter Anna Smith, who dominated throughout the match. Smith finished with 18 kills on 32 attacks. She was in on five of the last six points of the match, combining with Nightengale on a pair of blocks, adding two kills and the final ace. 

“Back in the day when we played against (Battle Creek St. Philip), they had Allyson Doyle (who later played at Western Michigan), I feel the same way about this kid,” Leland coach Laurie Glass said of Smith. “She jumps really well, she’s up there long enough to see what she wants to see, and she’s got a whip for an arm. She’s going to be a great player – she's going to continue to be; she already is a great player.” 

Kramer added 11 kills and five aces, while senior Aubrey Crotser had 22 assists. Senior Amaijha Bailey led the Hornets with 12 digs.  

Leland was led by senior Allie Martin, who finished with 13 kills and five digs. Senior Ella Siddall had 30 assists and nine digs, while senior Hanna Elwell added seven kills. 

For those Leland seniors, it ended a career that started with a Division 4 championship won during their freshman year in 2015.  

“I think it says a lot about what we did this season,” Siddall said. “I think we just did our jobs all throughout, and every game it was steady. I think maybe today was a little different, but I’d say this season overall we did really good.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mendon hoists its first MHSAA championship trophy won in volleyball since 2001 on Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Leland’s Hanna Elwell winds up as Anna Smith (8) and Cierra Nightingale (5) get ready to block. 

Fear the Socks: Cadillac Volleyball Success Never Out of Style

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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).