Top-Ranked Northville Cooking Up More Historic Possibilities After 2022 Finals Run

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

September 14, 2023

NORTHVILLE – Northville head volleyball coach Sarah Lindstrom often likes to have themes for her teams going into a season.

Greater DetroitAfter the program made its first appearance in an MHSAA Final last year, Lindstrom let members of each class on her team try and come up with their own theme going into the start of this year, and then a vote was taken by the squad to select the best one. 

So, what was the winning theme chosen by the team?

“Let us cook,” as chosen by the junior class.

“I thought it was fun,” said senior libero Ashlee Gnau, who was one of the many girls who voted for that theme. “I really did like it.”

The team plays on that theme when offensive and defensive players of each match are awarded giant forks or spoons. 

“We know last year by missing it as close as we did, that we have to put in even more work,” Lindstrom said. “They essentially want everyone to know that they are not going to be sitting at the dinner table. They are the ones that are going to be serving the meal.” 

So far, the Mustangs have served up lots of wins and what’s believed to be a historic ranking.

Northville enters Thursday with a 14-1 record and is currently ranked No. 1 in the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Division 1 poll.

Lindstrom believes it’s the first time the program has been ranked No. 1, and the team has tried to strike a balance between being proud but also knowing championships aren’t won in September.

Ella Craggs sets for a teammate at Kellogg Arena.“The first thing I said was that: ‘We’re ranked No. 1, but I can guarantee you we’re not going to be ranked No. 1 the whole year,’” Lindstrom said. “‘When that happens, let’s not freak out about it. It’s not a big deal.’”

Northville may or may not be ranked No. 1 the rest of the year; but regardless, it’s obviously on the short list of Division 1 title contenders. 

The Mustangs return 10 players from their team that lost to Bloomfield Hills Marian in the 2022 championship match. Five are college-bound. Junior setter Ella Craggs has committed to Illinois State, junior outside hitter Mallory Reck has committed to Marist, middle hitter Avry Nelson has pledged to Eckerd College in Florida, senior libero Greta McKee has committed to Wright State and Gnau has committed to Syracuse. 

Following the loss to Marian in the Final, then-senior Abby Reck left some departing words for the returning group, essentially saying they would be back in Battle Creek in 2023 because they know what it takes now.

“This year, we have a lot of returners and so many people who fill in so many shoes that we lost last year,” Gnau said. “I think learning from that experience, you’re going to have a huge target on your back, but you’re more prepared for the pressure. It was an amazing experience. Being that close last year makes us want to win it all this year.”

Lindstrom noted the experience from last year’s run seems to have paid dividends already, especially in a win at No. 3 Clarkston earlier this fall. 

“Our starting middle blew her ankle four points into that game,” she said. “We had a player out on the court who had never played all year and wasn’t even on the team last year. Because she was surrounded by so many other kids (who) have played in that type of pressure, it just makes us a big force.”

So big of a force that don’t be surprised if Northville cooks and serves up the school’s first volleyball state championship come November.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Northville’s Avry Nelson (6) winds up for a kill attempt during last season’s Division 1 Final against Bloomfield Hills Marian. (Middle) Ella Craggs sets for a teammate at Kellogg Arena.

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).