ADRIAN – Last November, Kiarah Horn was part of the first Adrian Madison volleyball team to reach the MHSAA Semifinals in more than 25 years. She’d like nothing more than to do it again.
“It was an awesome experience,” said the Madison senior. “We all want to get back to where we were last year. We are excited about it.”
If the first few weeks of the 2017 volleyball campaign are any indication, the Trojans from Lenawee County could be knocking on the door again come MHSAA tournament time.
Madison went 57-4-2 last season, including a perfect 14-0 in the Tri-County Conference, and was a surprise winner over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Class C Regional Final. The Trojans beat Allen Park Cabrini to advance to the Semifinals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek before losing to Brown City. It was Madison’s first Semifinal run since 1993 when current head coach Dawn Opsal’s sister was a member of the Trojans team.
“It was so rewarding last year for the girls to get there,” said Opsal, who is a Madison graduate in her 20th season leading the program. “They worked so hard. To beat SMCC, to get to the Semifinals, that was a great experience for everyone. It kind of showed them that, ‘Hey, we can compete.’”
SMCC was the top-ranked team in Class C and a 2015 Class C runner-up when Madison knocked it out of the 2016 tournament.
Opsal, who works in the business office at Madison, was a four-sport athlete in high school and has been around Madison nearly all of her life. The school held a ceremony retiring her number a couple of seasons ago, but she is still going strong. Madison has steadily climbed the volleyball ranks since she took over the program in 1999, a season that saw Madison win just 10 matches. She now owns four TCC championships and six District titles since 2008. She has more than 500 wins.
This year, Opsal created a more rigorous summer schedule and beefed up the regular-season schedule. Topping the school wins record is the last thing on her mind.
“The 57 wins just sort of happened,” she said. “That wasn’t our goal. We just got on a roll and it happened. For me, it’s not about a record or number of wins. I want the girls to play hard, to work hard and get better and, when the time comes, be ready for the (MHSAA) tournament.”
Horn, the senior setter, said the summer schedule was good for her and her teammates, who had to replace three key players, including Ysabela Soto, now playing at Oakland Community College in Auburn Hills.
“We played a lot of bigger schools,” Horn said. “It was a challenge.”
The regular season has been kind to Madison so far. The Trojans are 14-3-1 after winning Thursday’s match against TCC opponent Britton Deerfield. That also includes winning the Addison Tournament, advancing to the finals of the Tecumseh Tournament before losing to Ann Arbor Huron in the championship match (25-23, 25-19) and making it to the semifinals at Schoolcraft College before bowing out to Detroit Cass Tech, 25-22, 22-25, 15-8.
Madison played in summer leagues at Siena Heights University and Schoolcraft College, plus got into some games at Spring Arbor University.
“We have had a good start to the season,” libero Kia Rainey said. “We’ve played against some bigger schools. That will help us later in the season.”
Opsal said the schedule is by design.
“I kind of wanted to see some different schools and see how we competed with them,” she said. “I want to show this team right where we need to be.”
Seven players from last year’s team are on this season’s roster, including Rainey and Horn, Rachel Isom (opposite/middle blocker), Emma Freshcorn (middle blocker), Mahala Raleigh (opposite, middle blocker), and outside hitters Laura Teunion-Smith and Kaiya Wall. Wall, who is approaching 1,000 career kills, was second team all-state last season while Horn was an honorable mention choice.
Of the 10 girls on the varsity roster, five are seniors and five are juniors. Jersi Garza, Taylor Jordan and Kaitlyn Svoboda are the three newcomers.
“I’m excited with all of the returning players and the young ones coming up,” Opsal said. “I know the team has great hope. Last year was a great experience, but we want to make that repeat again and again. We’ve got a lot of little things to work on, but there is time.”
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 Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Madison all-stater Kaiya Wall puts down a kill past two blockers. (Middle) Trojans coach Dawn Opsal (facing, third from left) huddles with her team during last season’s Semifinal against Brown City. (Top photo by Joni Cabello Ehinger.)
GRANDVILLE – As an incoming freshman, Zoey Dood remembers the euphoria she felt when she found out her older sister had been given the position of head coach of the Grandville volleyball program.
“I was super excited because it was always a dream of mine to have my sister be my coach, and I never thought it would actually happen and it did,” Dood said. “I knew she could make me better right away.”
Almost four years later, that expectation has become a reality.
Now a senior, the 6-foot-2 Dood has developed into one of the top players in the state and was recently named a finalist for this season’s Miss Volleyball Award.
For Dood’s sister, Jessica Vredevoogd, the opportunity to coach her younger sibling was too much to pass up.
“That was a big reason why I stopped playing volleyball overseas, was to come back and try and be a part of Zoey and (younger brother) Jackson’s lives more because I didn’t want to be that older sibling that didn’t exist,” Vredevoogd said. “They grew up not getting to know me as well, so to step into that role as her coach at Grandville was nice because I’ve had the chance to spend more time with her and it has built our relationship even more.”
With a 10-year age gap between them, Dood was a young child when she watched her older sister become a two-time all-state setter at Grandville before enjoying a successful career at Oakland University.
Vredevoogd, 28, who recently married, finished her final season for the Golden Grizzlies in 2016 and became the seventh player in program history to surpass 1,000 career kills.
She played overseas before returning to Grandville.
Dood, 18, saw the path her sister took to reach an elite level and wanted to follow in her footsteps.
“I would not have been as successful as I am today if I didn’t have my sister as my coach because I look up to her and I respect her and all of her accomplishments,” Dood said. “It has motivated me to want to be just like her and have the same accomplishments as she’s had.”
Dood, also a setter, received Division 1 all-state second-team accolades last year with an impressive stat line of 380 assists, 168 digs and 176 kills while leading the Bulldogs to a winning record. She posted a match-high 35 kills against East Kentwood last season during the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red Tournament.
Dood is ranked the state’s top player by Prep Dig, and committed to the University of Virginia last year.
“I’m pumped for her,” Vredevoogd said. “I think she's going to do awesome things there, and I'm just happy that someone else sees her potential. While coaching her the last four years has been fun, I'm excited to see her play and be able to thrive at the college level, too.”
Dood’s vast improvement from her freshman year until now has been impressive.
A strong worth ethic and a desire to reach the highest level have pushed her.
“My freshman year I was horrible, but I've improved exponentially and I know my sister has been a big part of that,” Dood said. “We would go into practice 30 minutes early, and I would practice my setting every single day.
“From freshman to sophomore year was an extreme change already in my development, and from there she has helped me so much and she's helped me with my IQ as well.”
Vredevoogd has seen major changes in her sister’s game and is proud of the progress she’s made.
“It’s her ability to really be intent about what you are saying to her, and then she's able to put it into action,” she said. “She's super coachable, but she’s hard-working, too. She's going to keep trying to do what I’m telling her.
“Freshman to sophomore was a big mental growth for her, and then sophomore to junior year and now her senior year you see the physical growth in her game, too.”
The dynamic between the sisters has been one of mutual respect and navigating the boundaries of a sister/coach relationship.
“I feel it’s different from your average mom and daughter experience,” Vredevoogd said. “It's interesting because she's actually watched me play, so I think she can be coached by me because she respects me a little bit in the sense that she's like, ‘OK, she actually did do what I’m trying to accomplish,’ but we do have our sister moments where there is more sass behind the tone. It’s like, do you want a coach's opinion or do you want a sister's opinion?”
Said Dood: “There are times when she says, ’I’m your coach so you need to treat me as a coach,’ and other times when I'm playing club and she’s my sister and now I can talk to her. Points where I can talk to her about certain things and points when I’m not technically allowed to where I approach her as a coach or just act like she's my coach and not my sister.”
Dood was an accomplished basketball player in middle school, but hasn’t played in high school due to her volleyball aspirations.
“My parents kept going back and forth about it and we just didn’t know if I would have time for that,” Dood said. “I couldn't fully commit to that, and I also knew that I wanted to play Division I volleyball in a Power 5 (conference) and be one of the top volleyball players in the country – so I knew I had to give that up to be able to do that.”
Dood will graduate early to get a jump start at Virginia.
“It was a very tough decision because I didn’t know if I wanted to miss out on my senior year, and I thought I would miss out on big senior events – and then I found out I wouldn’t,” Dood said. “What really sold me on it was my major (education), and they told me that I could get my master's degree in four and a half years if I graduated early. And I’ll have that extra semester, so my coach can develop me in the way she wants me to.”
As a team, the Bulldogs are striving to gain respectability in a difficult O-K Red.
They recently finished second at the Traverse City Invitational and lost a thrilling five-set match to Division 1 honorable mention Jenison to open conference play.
“I think Grandville volleyball always gets overlooked because we’ve always been the underdogs, but their drive to work hard is going to help us get more unexpected wins than anticipated,” Vredevoogd said. “And with Zoey being an offensive threat for us in the front row and being able to get a touch on every rally because she is a setter, I think that only helps us. She is one of our top scorers, and if we’re not able to use her then we have a hard time winning.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville's Zoey Dood is a recently-announced Miss Volleyball Award finalist this season. (Middle) Dood sets for the Bulldogs as a junior. (Top photo by Tully Chapman; middle photo courtesy of the Grandville volleyball program.)