Undefeated Calumet Upholding Tradition

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

October 22, 2020

CALUMET — Over nearly two decades, Calumet has developed a tradition of excellence in high school volleyball.

First-year coach Kate (Twardzik) Bonacorsi remembers what it was like during the early years.

“We were an unknown,” she said. “Hardly anybody would come to the volleyball matches. Then we won the (Class B) Regional in 2003 and kind of raised the bar.

“A lot of the credit has to go to my mom (Lisa Twardzik) for all the work she put into the program and the passion she had for the game.”

Their multiple-generation coaching connection is just the latest from a legacy that is again producing a team capable of achieving high aspirations.  

The Copper Kings – honorable mentions in this week’s Division 3 coaches poll – are fresh from Monday’s 3-0 victory over Houghton and will take an 11-0 record into Saturday’s Western Peninsula Athletic Conference finals on their home court.

Calumet finishes its regular season at Marquette on Oct. 29, then hosts Hancock in a District opener Nov. 4.

“This is pretty exciting after putting all the time in the gym,” said senior libero Cami Johnson. “We have good chemistry on our team for sure. It’s inspiring too for us to be on a competitive team. We were able to see our older sisters play and be part of a successful program, and that motivated us to work harder. I’m proud to be from Calumet.”

The Copper Kings, who fell to Manistique in Regional openers the past two seasons, hope to go deeper in this year’s MHSAA Tournament.

They hope those defeats pay off when the postseason begins. 

“When we saw them in warm-ups, they looked pretty good and we were a little nervous about playing them,” said senior outside hitter Elli Djerf of taking on the Emeralds in 2019. “There’s a chance we could see them again this year if we win our District.

“We learned quite a bit from those losses. With COVID-19 you never know when your season might end. We’re not as nervous this time. We play every match like it’s going to be our last.”

Among the team’s highlights this fall was a 3-1 triumph over Marquette at home Sept. 14.

“We made a bit of a statement that night,” said Johnson. “Our hitters were executing, and they had a few strong hitters. We were a little worried when we missed two weeks due to COVID, but after the break we came back super fresh.”

Djerf was the West-PAC’s Player of the Year last season as a junior, and Johnson was the Defensive Specialist of the Year. Now-senior setter Kristi Keranen also made the all-league first team.

Also among the team’s leaders is sophomore middle hitter Helen Beiring. “Helen plays well above her age,” Bonacorsi said. “She’s a very savvy player, and our setter is doing a good job.

“We have strong players at every position, and they challenge each other in practice. Just being able to have a season, maintaining a high standard and living up to expectations has been a highlight.”

A member of Calumet’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Bonacorsi went on to play at Northern Michigan University, and her sister Erica played on the 2008 team that finished Class C runner-up to Schoolcraft.

“Erica and Abby Storm were co-MVPs in the West-PAC that year,” said Bonacorsi. “I remember going to the Semifinals and Finals after we got eliminated from the (NCAA Division II Tournament). It was exciting to see them play.”

Lisa Twardzik retired from coaching after leading the Copper Kings to another Semifinal appearance in 2016, and with a record of 625-131-43 over 18 seasons. Matt Laho took over for the next three seasons.

“Matt did a great job maintaining the program and has been gracious enough to help out, and Mom gave me some pointers,” said Bonacorsi. “Matt left me with a full cupboard. Mom is so modest and tells me ‘I don’t want to step on your toes,’ and I tell her ‘I need your help.’”

Djerf pointed to the team’s communication on the floor among areas becoming strengths this season. She also noted the team’s serve-receive and serving as contributors to Calumet’s overall continued improvement.

All have the Copper Kings in position to again thrive into November.

“It feels great to be part of a tradition. When you’re a little girl, you look up to the older girls. We thought they were so cool and wanted to be a part of that,” Keranen said.

“We work hard in practice. So far we’ve gone undefeated, and we want to keep it going.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO: Calumet's Helen Beiring taps the ball over the net during a match against Hancock in September. (Photo courtesy of the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.)

Fear the Socks: Cadillac Volleyball Success Never Out of Style

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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).