Undefeated Onsted Finds Winning Formula

September 28, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ONSTED – Rhonda Hubbard teaches physical education and science in the classroom. But, on the volleyball court, she’s become a chemistry instructor.

Her creation this fall has been mixing up a 25-0 Onsted volleyball team.

“We were all so excited for this season,” said Wildcats junior leader Mya Hiram. “We knew we had the skill and talent and were just excited to work together. It’s all about team chemistry. Our team chemistry is amazing. That is a huge part of how good things are going.”

Onsted sits atop the Lenawee County Athletic Association at 7-0 and has beaten every team except Ida at least once in league play. The Wildcats have lost just two sets all season – one to Adrian Madison in the Tecumseh Tournament and one to Mason at the Mason Invitational – in rocketing to the undefeated start. The loss to Mason came in the first set.

“We didn’t get nervous or anything,” Hiram said about the 25-19 setback. “We all just kind of came together, re-grouped and did what we had to do. It pushed us that much harder.”

The Wildcats are experienced with several contributors back from last season’s 35-16-5 team.

Siena Heights University commit Kinsey Wagner leads the senior group that includes Brooke Gorney, McKenna Smith, Randall Strack and Randall Sexton. Hiram is part of a talented group of junior athletes that includes Brianna Benz and Kayla Ross. Kamryn Ross, Ruby Foster and Kennedy Ross are the three sophomores. 

Hiram is one of several Onsted players who play multiple sports. She’s being recruited by dozens of college basketball teams, including some Division I programs. She also plays volleyball year-round.

“This group has played almost endlessly,” Hubbard said. “They play basketball and other sports, but they also play a lot of club volleyball. They put the time in, that’s for sure.”

It’s hard to pin-point one player on the deep Wildcats roster. Through 24 matches, Smith (92.1 percent), Wagner (96.8 percent), Ross (95.6 percent) and Gorney (91.4 percent) were all serving above 90 percent. Hiram averages 3.33 kills a game with Wagner averaging 3.03. Ross has 248 digs with Hiram having 210. Smith has 468 assists, an average above eight per game. Wagner has 42 blocks.

At the Mason Invitational, Wagner, Hiram and Ross all made the All-Tournament team. Hubbard said one thing that makes this group special is the opponent doesn’t know who to focus on.

“They are all very court-aware,” she said. “They move the ball well. I don’t have one go-to girl, although we could have. That makes us harder to defend because (the opponents) don’t know who’s going to get the ball.”

Hubbard is an Adrian graduate who coached the Maples freshman volleyball team 13 years before becoming the Adrian varsity head coach in 2004. This is her 10th season as the Onsted varsity volleyball coach. She also has coached track for 30 years.

“I was a sports nut,” Hubbard said about growing up. “Give me a sport and let me play it. It didn’t matter what it was. I loved the game, loved playing the game and had good mentors. I love coaching and do it because I love the kids. They keep me in it.”

Onsted has this weekend off before returning to the court Monday against Hudson. The MHSAA Tournament starts the first weekend in November. Hubbard isn’t concerned about still being undefeated.

“I think the girls understand it’s more important to be undefeated in the state tournament than the regular season,” she said.

Hiram said while the team is very aware of its record, she and her teammates aren’t resting on it or thinking too much about it.

“When we step onto the court, that doesn’t make us nervous at all,” she said. “It pushes us. We have a lot of confidence.”

Onsted’s most recent LCAA championship came in 2012, while Hubbard’s 2017 team won a District title. Onsted’s only Regional volleyball championship came in 1992. That Wildcats team lost in the Semifinals.

“I think they are capable of going deep into the tournament,” Hubbard said. “It’s just a matter of making sure to focus and do what we are supposed to do. We can do well at the county tournament, District, Regionals … but we all know anything can happen.”

While the victories are piling up, Onsted also faces some tough competition ahead.

The Wildcats still must play LCAA opponent Ida twice, play in the Lenawee County Tournament and will take the court at the Polish Classic Invite at Bronson on Oct. 5. Niles, Sturgis, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, Edwardsburg and Bronson also will be there. Bronson is the four-time reigning Division 3/Class C champion.

“We put that tournament on our schedule a couple of years ago because we know they are competitive teams,” Hubbard said. “You have to do that to get better. We want to play the teams that are going to push us and make us better. If we get beat, okay, it’s not the end of the world. To be unbeaten right now is awesome, but we know who we still have to play.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Onsted’s Mya Hiram (4) moves the ball ahead during a match this season. (Middle) Kinsey Wagner prepares to serve. (Photos by Laura Harvey.)

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).