NORTHVILLE – Northville head volleyball coach Sarah Lindstrom often likes to have themes for her teams going into a season.
After 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.
“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 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.
Sarah Bradley ♦ Clarkston Everest Collegiate
Junior ♦ Volleyball
The 6-0 outside hitter had 31 kills – tied for sixth-most in an MHSAA Final – with a .419 hitting percentage and 18 digs as Everest Collegiate came back from a two-set deficit to defeat No. 4-ranked Leland in five in Saturday’s Division 4 championship match at Kellogg Arena. The first Finals title in program history capped a tournament run that saw the Mountaineers also win their first Regional title. Everest entered the postseason ranked No. 10 in Division 4 and finished 32-4-2.
Bradley finished the season with 420 kills, adding 15 in a Quarterfinal win over No. 6 Marlette and 25 in a five-set Semifinal victory over top-ranked Adrian Lenawee Christian during which Everest also came back after losing the first two sets. Bradley was named to the Division 4 all-state first team after earning an honorable mention as a sophomore. She also plays basketball, softball and soccer for the Mountaineers and is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field as she begins contemplating her college possibilities.
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
Nov. 17: Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10: Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27: Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20: Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13: Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5: Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29: MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22: Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8: Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Clarkston Everest Collegiate athletic department.)