Tony Wetmore hadn’t arrived yet the last time Gladwin’s varsity volleyball team won a Jack Pine Conference championship. But he had a trustworthy witness able to give a first-hand account of what his Flying G’s have been chasing over the last 40+ years.
Wetmore’s mother and junior varsity coach Jane Wetmore, then Jane Huber – played on that last league championship volleyball team. She also was the one who got her son into coaching; he started his Gladwin tenure as the freshman volleyball coach teaching a sport he admittedly didn’t know much about himself.
But Mom clearly was onto something.
Less than a decade later, Wetmore has just finished up his sixth season as Gladwin’s varsity coach – and his team has finished its first league championship season since 1978, earning the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” honor for October.
Gladwin has been hovering in contention much of the last decade, but this team had all the ingredients to end the drought. Start with senior outside hitter Erin Breault and senior setter Delaney Reynolds – Breault broke the school’s single-season and career kills records this season, and Reynolds broke the same records for assists. Additionally, Breault led the JPC in kills, and junior middle Lizzie Haines led the league in hitting percentage.
But that high-caliber talent also was surrounded by several contributors who helped Gladwin push past longtime nemesis Beaverton and into the top spot.
“I felt like the whole season I could split the team in half, and one team could take first in the conference and the other team could take like fourth. I just felt like we were that deep where we were good and we could practice at a pretty high level, which was really cool,” Wetmore said.
“It’s obviously linked together, the assist record breaker and the kill record breaker on the same team,” he added. “And I think the thing that really pushed us over the edge this year is we had so many different attackers that were really, really good. My outside hitter Erin broke the record, she led the league in kills. My middle hitter led the league in hitting percentage. Both of those are reflective of our ability to get the ball to our attackers, which is the setter’s main job – but our back row played really well also all season, so a super-big team effort for all of them.”
The Flying G’s were able to win the Jack Pine in large part because they became the first league opponent since 2018 to defeat annual power Beaverton – Gladwin swept the pair of matches against its rival, and those remain Beaverton’s only league defeats over the last five seasons.
The Flying G’s had been building toward this. They won their District in 2018, and then finished second in the JPC in 2019. The team was only .500 in 2020, but came back to finish 29-5 last season and 29-10 this fall.
Wetmore brought Breault, Reynolds and senior libero Delaney Conley up to varsity as sophomores that 2020 season. Breault, Reynolds and Haines earned all-region honors this season, and Wetmore was named his region’s Coach of the Year by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. (Conley, a standout softball player, has signed to continue playing that sport at Saginaw Valley State.)
More quickly than hoped, of course, Gladwin made its season-ending exit in District play again. But the Flying G’s don’t plan on the prior good times coming to an end.
True, the seniors who will graduate are part of a class that’s been long-anticipated across all sports – another example this fall has been the football team, 12-0 and playing in a Division 5 Semifinal on Saturday.
Wetmore expects his volleyball seniors’ impact to last as younger players who watched them succeed this fall take their turns on the court with a larger idea of what’s possible.
“(It’s) just getting over the hump. Talk about our goals – every year trying to win the conference championship but we can’t get there. Every year since 2018, trying to beat Beaverton but we can’t do it. Districts, we’d won every once in a while … we won in 2011, so from 2011-15 we couldn’t get over it, but in (20)16 we got a District and then we got the next two,” Wetmore said. “When you break that barrier, it makes it easier to realize you can do things.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23
September: Negaunee girls tennis - Report
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.
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 (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.
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.