BATTLE CREEK – For most programs, a five-year gap between MHSAA Finals appearances is a sign of incredible strength.
For Battle Creek St. Philip volleyball, it must have felt like an eternity.
The state’s winningest program made its way back to the top Saturday, defeating Auburn Hills Oakland Christian 25-8, 25-15, 22-25, 22-25, 17-15 in the Division 4 Final at Kellogg Arena. It’s the 21st title for the Tigers, and first since 2014.
“I think it’s about time we got another one for Coach (Vicky) Groat,” St. Philip senior Harleen Deol said. “It’s been a dream since fifth grade, so it’s a dream come true my senior year.”
St. Philip dominated the sport after the turn of the century, making 15 straight Finals appearances and winning 10 titles – including a record nine straight – from 2002-15.
“I think in the past – I don’t think our team would take it for granted – I think our supporters took it for granted,” said Groat, who has now won 11 titles as St. Philip coach. “I’ve had many people say, ‘Oh, you’re always going to win state. St. Phil, we’re tired of St. Phil, they recruit.’ We don’t recruit, our numbers are going down – we have 10 total players in our program. … We preach about it at the start of every year, our goal is to win a state title. That’s what you want to strive for, and these kids believed in it.”
It took everything the Tigers had to get No. 21, as Oakland Christian pushed them deep into the fifth set. The back-and-forth final frame ended with a Lancer attack going long, followed by St. Philp jubilation.
“It was mentally and physically draining,” said St. Philip junior Brooke Dzwik, who had 37 kills in the match. “But at the end of the day, when you work your tail off and leave it all on the court, it makes the reward so much greater. We were able to do it for our senior, Harleen, and we reminded the youngers of that multiple times in the huddles. Everybody just was working, and that helped.”
Groat looked to the sky before being embraced by her assistant coaches.
“It feels like the first time,” Groat said. “I’ll never forget (2005), that was my first title as coach, but this is extra special, with the break (because of COVID-19).
Volleyball teams, and all fall sports teams, paused activity for nearly two months because of rising COVID-19 metrics. Teams returned to practice two weeks ago and restarted the tournament with Quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Early on Saturday, it didn’t appear as if St. Philip would have much trouble collecting title No. 21. The Tigers rolled through the first set, winning 15 of the final 16 points. While the second was tighter, it was never in doubt, as Oakland Christian didn’t have any answers for the Tigers’ attack.
Midway through that set, after a back-row attack found a hole in the back of the Lancers’ defense, Dzwik had her 13th kill of the match. Oakland Christian, meanwhile, had scored 14 points as a team.
“She did all right,” Groat said with a laugh. “Brooke has been our main hitter this year, and today we kind of relied on her a lot. Besides Brooke, Harleen in the middle played a great game … to complement Brooke. But Brooke is an outstanding volleyball player. She sees the court so well, she wants it so bad, she pushes her teammates. I preach we’re a team, it’s not about individuals. We have 10 girls out there who bust their behind and help Brooke out.”
Oakland Christian flipped a switch in the third set, however, winning a back-and-forth affair to extend the match. They kept that momentum going in the fourth, turning what had looked like a St. Philip walkover into a toss-up.
“I didn’t want them to go down like this,” Oakland Christian coach Brian Theut said. “We’ve been through a lot of stuff this year, and this wasn’t how we were going to end it. Today, what was that final chapter going to be in the book that we wrote this year. I knew our seniors deserved a better way out, so I just kept telling them to hang in there. That third game, I knew if we could just get one, get a couple points in a row, I knew we had it. I just wanted to give us a chance, and that fifth set, it was anyone’s game. I wanted us to compete and show that we could.”
Oakland Christian was led by senior libero Olivia Colletti, who had 36 digs. Katie Hopkins had 27 assists, guiding a balanced Lancers attack, led by Anna Frazee’s 10 kills. Kylie Morga added nine kills, while Kaylee Page had eight.
“I am extremely proud of my team,” Page said. “This has been our dream, our goal, and we got to where we wanted. We may not have gotten the outcome we desired, but we laid it all out on the floor, every single girl – our whole bench, all our fans, our parents. We are so incredibly blessed to be where we are now, and that’s all I could ask for. Of course I want to win, but I’m proud of how we played.”
Dzwik added 32 digs to her match-high kill total. Rachel Myers had 51 assists, while Bailey Fancher had 29 digs, Kate Doyle had 20, and Deol had 16 kills.
PHOTOS: (Top) Battle Creek St. Philip’s Rachel Myers controls possession for the Tigers during the Division 4 Final. (Middle) Abigail Franey serves for Oakland Christian. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
GRANDVILLE – As an incoming freshman, Zoey Dood remembers the euphoria she felt when she found out her older sister had been given the position of head coach of the Grandville volleyball program.
“I was super excited because it was always a dream of mine to have my sister be my coach, and I never thought it would actually happen and it did,” Dood said. “I knew she could make me better right away.”
Almost four years later, that expectation has become a reality.
Now a senior, the 6-foot-2 Dood has developed into one of the top players in the state and was recently named a finalist for this season’s Miss Volleyball Award.
For Dood’s sister, Jessica Vredevoogd, the opportunity to coach her younger sibling was too much to pass up.
“That was a big reason why I stopped playing volleyball overseas, was to come back and try and be a part of Zoey and (younger brother) Jackson’s lives more because I didn’t want to be that older sibling that didn’t exist,” Vredevoogd said. “They grew up not getting to know me as well, so to step into that role as her coach at Grandville was nice because I’ve had the chance to spend more time with her and it has built our relationship even more.”
With a 10-year age gap between them, Dood was a young child when she watched her older sister become a two-time all-state setter at Grandville before enjoying a successful career at Oakland University.
Vredevoogd, 28, who recently married, finished her final season for the Golden Grizzlies in 2016 and became the seventh player in program history to surpass 1,000 career kills.
She played overseas before returning to Grandville.
Dood, 18, saw the path her sister took to reach an elite level and wanted to follow in her footsteps.
“I would not have been as successful as I am today if I didn’t have my sister as my coach because I look up to her and I respect her and all of her accomplishments,” Dood said. “It has motivated me to want to be just like her and have the same accomplishments as she’s had.”
Dood, also a setter, received Division 1 all-state second-team accolades last year with an impressive stat line of 380 assists, 168 digs and 176 kills while leading the Bulldogs to a winning record. She posted a match-high 35 kills against East Kentwood last season during the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red Tournament.
Dood is ranked the state’s top player by Prep Dig, and committed to the University of Virginia last year.
“I’m pumped for her,” Vredevoogd said. “I think she's going to do awesome things there, and I'm just happy that someone else sees her potential. While coaching her the last four years has been fun, I'm excited to see her play and be able to thrive at the college level, too.”
Dood’s vast improvement from her freshman year until now has been impressive.
A strong worth ethic and a desire to reach the highest level have pushed her.
“My freshman year I was horrible, but I've improved exponentially and I know my sister has been a big part of that,” Dood said. “We would go into practice 30 minutes early, and I would practice my setting every single day.
“From freshman to sophomore year was an extreme change already in my development, and from there she has helped me so much and she's helped me with my IQ as well.”
Vredevoogd has seen major changes in her sister’s game and is proud of the progress she’s made.
“It’s her ability to really be intent about what you are saying to her, and then she's able to put it into action,” she said. “She's super coachable, but she’s hard-working, too. She's going to keep trying to do what I’m telling her.
“Freshman to sophomore was a big mental growth for her, and then sophomore to junior year and now her senior year you see the physical growth in her game, too.”
The dynamic between the sisters has been one of mutual respect and navigating the boundaries of a sister/coach relationship.
“I feel it’s different from your average mom and daughter experience,” Vredevoogd said. “It's interesting because she's actually watched me play, so I think she can be coached by me because she respects me a little bit in the sense that she's like, ‘OK, she actually did do what I’m trying to accomplish,’ but we do have our sister moments where there is more sass behind the tone. It’s like, do you want a coach's opinion or do you want a sister's opinion?”
Said Dood: “There are times when she says, ’I’m your coach so you need to treat me as a coach,’ and other times when I'm playing club and she’s my sister and now I can talk to her. Points where I can talk to her about certain things and points when I’m not technically allowed to where I approach her as a coach or just act like she's my coach and not my sister.”
Dood was an accomplished basketball player in middle school, but hasn’t played in high school due to her volleyball aspirations.
“My parents kept going back and forth about it and we just didn’t know if I would have time for that,” Dood said. “I couldn't fully commit to that, and I also knew that I wanted to play Division I volleyball in a Power 5 (conference) and be one of the top volleyball players in the country – so I knew I had to give that up to be able to do that.”
Dood will graduate early to get a jump start at Virginia.
“It was a very tough decision because I didn’t know if I wanted to miss out on my senior year, and I thought I would miss out on big senior events – and then I found out I wouldn’t,” Dood said. “What really sold me on it was my major (education), and they told me that I could get my master's degree in four and a half years if I graduated early. And I’ll have that extra semester, so my coach can develop me in the way she wants me to.”
As a team, the Bulldogs are striving to gain respectability in a difficult O-K Red.
They recently finished second at the Traverse City Invitational and lost a thrilling five-set match to Division 1 honorable mention Jenison to open conference play.
“I think Grandville volleyball always gets overlooked because we’ve always been the underdogs, but their drive to work hard is going to help us get more unexpected wins than anticipated,” Vredevoogd said. “And with Zoey being an offensive threat for us in the front row and being able to get a touch on every rally because she is a setter, I think that only helps us. She is one of our top scorers, and if we’re not able to use her then we have a hard time winning.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville's Zoey Dood is a recently-announced Miss Volleyball Award finalist this season. (Middle) Dood sets for the Bulldogs as a junior. (Top photo by Tully Chapman; middle photo courtesy of the Grandville volleyball program.)