BATTLE CREEK -- Alexis Huntey will now be in the conversation when sister Ashley reminisces about her MHSAA Class C Volleyball title in 2007.
The 6-2 senior outside hitter led Morley-Stanwood to the school's second championship Saturday, and the first since her older sister helped the Mohawks to their only other title four years ago against Ubly.
She’s one of the heroes of Saturday’s MHSAA Finals at Kellogg Arena. We’ve got highlights from all four games, and some of the stories behind them.
When Morley-Stanwood won its 2007 title, Alexis Huntey watched from the bench as a team manager.
Now, younger sis might even have the better story of the two.
The Mohawks (58-4-2) claimed the 2011 championship by downing 2010 champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 3-2 in one of the most thrilling Finals in MHSAA history.
The see-saw affair saw 32 ties and 13 lead changes from beginning to its nail-biting end, and featured 124 kills. With Morley-Stanwood leading 2-1 in sets (25-22, 26-28, 25-22), the Mohawks were just two points away from victory in set No. 4, leading the Kestrels 23-22. However, Kestrels battled to a 26-24 win to force a decisive fifth set.
Monroe St. Mary (48-4) came out firing in the final set, bolting to an 8-4 lead before the Mohawks rattled off five consecutive points to surge ahead. Fitting to this matchup, the game was tied three more times before Morley-Stanwood went ahead for good on a kill by Kayla Rosman to make it 12-11.
Then, after a Huntey kill put the Mohawks on the brink, the celebration began when a Kestrel attempt sailed wide of the end line to give Morley a 15-13 win and the trophy.
Huntey's 30 kills rank tied for third on the MHSAA Finals list, and she might need ice for her shoulder after 84 attempts.
Monroe SMCC's 63 team kills rank fourth on the all-time MHSAA Finals ledger, while Morley-Stanwood's 61 are tied for sixth. The teams combined for 387 attack attempts and the setters combined for 121 assists.
The defenses played a key role in the roller-coaster affair, as the Kestrels turned in 93 digs, while the Mohawks had 84.
In the first-ever MHSAA Volleyball Finals appearance for both schools, Rockford rolled over Lake Orion in three sets, 25-21, 25-23, 25-10 to claim the school's first crown.
The Rams (60-8) used an efficient attack to dispose of the Dragons (54-13-3), hitting .289 while limiting Lake Orion to a .115 attack percentage.
Senior setter Halle Peterson had plenty of options offensively, spreading the opportunities around the Rams’ front line. Four players recorded double-digit kills for Rockford, paced by senior hitter Jessica Majerle's 14. Murphy Heyer added 11 kills and led the team with 15 digs, while Andrea Kacsits and Avery Punches chipped in with 10 kills apiece.
Lake Orion senior Shannon Murdock led the Dragons with 13 kills.
Like both Class A finalists, Tecumseh was in its first MHSAA Final on Saturday. But reigning champion Fruitport played on its strength and playoff experience to claim a second-straight title and the third in program history.
The Trojans (50-8) defeated Tecumseh 25-13, 25-20, 25-19. The Indians finished 55-4-1.
Fruitport also won Class B in 2005 and has finished MHSAA runner-up four times. The Trojans surivived a five-game Semifinal against East Grand Rapids to earn Saturday's opportunity.
Breanna Geile had 15 kills and Brandie Jones 14 for Fruitport, with setter Lauren Hazekamp totaling 33 assists. Kelsey Berrington had 32 kills for Tecumseh, and Carly Tillotson had 29 assists.
The Tigers of Battle Creek St. Philip continued to make themselves at home in their backyard at Kellogg, winning the Class D title for a sixth straight year.
This year's victim was the same school against which St. Philip began its recent streak, Wyoming Tri-unity Christian. The Tigers pounded out a 3-0 win over the Defenders, 25-16, 25-13 and 25-11 in rolling to the school's 17th title overall.
For coach Vicky Groat, it meant moving one win closer to the school record for MHSAA crowns. She now has led seven Tigers teams to championships, two behind her mother, Sheila Guerra, for whom Vicky played as a student at St. Philip. The Tigers' only title not won with Groat or Guerra at the helm was a 1979 win under the tutelage of Becky Emrich.
On Saturday, it was an attack of underclassmen leading the way for St. Philip (59-4-2). Junior Amanda McKinzie registered 16 kills, and sophomore Sierra Hubbard-Neil added 12 to lead the attack. Hubbard-Neil converted 12 of 23 attempts with only one error, hitting .478.
Directing the Tigers attack was junior setter Andrea Lesiow, distributing 30 assists.
Tri-unity (39-14-2) had no answer for the Tigers, who also played tremendous defense with nine blocks and 42 digs. The Defenders were led by junior Alyssa Petrick's 17 kills.
(Above) Big hitter: Morley-Stanwood senior Alexis Huntey winds up for one of her 30 kills in the Class C Final.
(Below) No. 1: Rockford, in its first MHSAA Final, claimed its first championship in the Class A title game.
Cadillac’s girls volleyball team is quite accustomed to getting flack from opposing teams’ student sections about their socks.
That’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.
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.”
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 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).