Monroe St Mary Rising to Repeat Mode

November 13, 2020

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

MONROE – Flip the Switch. 

Every year, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central head coach Karen O’Brien comes up with a catchphrase that she can use in conversations with her team for motivation. 

This year, O’Brien picked the phrase “Flip the Switch,” which signals that MHSAA Tournament time is the time the Kestrels need to turn their game up a notch if they want to repeat as Division 3 champions.  

“We know we have a goal we want to accomplish, and we are working hard to get there,” said SMCC senior Anna Dean. “There’s always another level that we can reach, every game.” 

To this point, the Kestrels have answered the call. On Thursday, SMCC beat Manchester in straight sets to improve to 36-2 on the season and advance to Tuesday’s Quarterfinal against Bronson. O’Brien, in her sixth year coaching the Kestrels, said her team is making steady progress, but they still have potential to get better.

“We know we have another level we can raise our game to,” she said. “We haven’t played at that level yet in the playoffs. We know we need to flip the switch, mentally and physically, if we want to be at the next level.” 

SMCC is a veteran team with seven seniors who have been playing together for years. Miss Volleyball finalist Mikayla Haut is joined by classmates Grace Lipford, Abbie Costlow, Jaydin Nowak, Kylie Barron, Anna Dean and Olivia Anderson. There are also five juniors and two sophomores on the postseason roster. 

Haut is the second member of her family to be a Miss Volleyball finalist. Cassie Haut, now an assistant coach with the program, was a finalist in 2014 before becoming an all-Mid-American Conference player at Eastern Michigan University.  

“I think Mikayla learned last year that she doesn’t have to carry us, she has to lead us,” O’Brien said.  

Haut showed off her talent in the Regional held at Adrian Madison this week, at times dominating Tuesday’s match against Hudson and playing steady against Manchester. 

“I think our biggest thing is just being consistent,” Haut said. “That’s what is going to get us to where we want to be.” 

The Kestrels have put together an impressive resume to take with them into Tuesday’s Quarterfinal. In late October, O’Brien found an opening at a quad in Marshall where the Kestrels went and beat Marshall, ranked No. 10 in Division 2 at the time, Lake Odessa Lakewood, ranked No. 1 in Division 2, and Harper Creek, to go 3-0 on the day. SMCC also won its 10th consecutive Huron League title earlier this season. Haut and Barron have gone 55-1 in league play over their four-year careers.  

SMCC’s only losses this fall were to Division 1 opponents Saline and Ann Arbor Skyline. Skyline, which beat Saline in this year’s District, will be playing in Tuesday’s Quarterfinals as well. 

Costlow said the team believes in the Flip the Switch mentality.  

“As we get to harder teams, we really need to flip that switch,” she said. “We have before. As we progress in the postseason, we need to get our game up. 

“It’s a mental thing. It’s energy. When we bring that energy, we all move together and play as a unit, it's really fun.” 

Costlow has worked on a jump float serve this year and is consistently one of the team’s best servers. 

“The coaches have really been working with me with my hand contact and staying strong with it and not moving my wrist around,” she said. “I like contacting the ball higher. It floats and is hard to pass when it gets up into the air like that.” 

Serving at a high level is important for the SMCC attack.  

“Our goal is to serve tough so that their setters have a tough time getting anybody the ball,” O’Brien said. 

When they are playing offense, the SMCC hitters seem to never stop coming at teams. 

“I will be shocked if they don’t (win Division 3 again),” said Whiteford coach Buffy Ruddy after watching the Bobcats fall to SMCC in the District Final. “They have a great team. They have very good ball control, make very few errors and just have a really good balanced attack. They keep coming at you.” 

O’Brien said the SMCC setters do a great job of distributing the ball. 

“We have six hitters that can attack the ball,” she said. “We have certain plays called, but the setters do a good job of spreading the ball around. It can come from our middle or the right side. I think it’s a great thing. The opponents have to focus on three attackers every time.” 

Costlow agreed. 

“That’s one of the reasons we do so well,” Costlow said. “We have so many hitters that can put the ball down. The other team never knows where the ball is going to be set or who’s going to hit. It really messes up the other team.” 

After seeing her team get past Manchester, Lipford said the Kestrels want more. 

“We didn’t play to our full potential,” she said. “We would have liked it to be more decisive of a win. We need to start quicker, finish and play our game. 

“From the very start we have to have that mentality.” 

O’Brien is in her sixth year as head coach at SMCC. In 2018 her squad lost to Bronson in the Semifinals. Last year the Kestrels swept through the regular season and tournament, winning the school’s sixth Finals championship, and first under O’Brien, in a five-set thriller over Schoolcraft. 

The win over Manchester was another start. 

“I think individually we made steps, but as a team we are not there yet,” O’Brien said. “But we’ll be there on Tuesday.”  

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) SMCC’s Mikayla Haut (8) hits against Hudson’s Callie Bauer in their Regional Semifinal. Both Haut and Bauer are Miss Volleyball Award finalists. (Middle) Abbie Costlow (4) swings against Hudson. Costlow is one of seven seniors on the SMCC squad. (Below) The “Flip The Switch” T-shirt. (Action photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)

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

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

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.