ADRIAN – Abby Weber doesn’t stand out on the volleyball court during warm-ups or lineup introductions.
At about 5-foot-6, Weber doesn’t look like a dominating volleyball player – until the game starts, that is. After that, opponents better know where she’s at and how to stop her.
The Adrian Madison senior captain has been the key cog in a Trojans volleyball team that won its 33rd match of the season Monday. She’s on the varsity for the fourth straight season and, with her on the team, Madison hasn’t lost a Tri-County Conference game. The Trojans have won 49 straight TCC matches – and picked up five straight league titles along the way. They are in great shape to capture a sixth straight as they are 7-0 in the league with five matches left.
In the win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford, Weber was more than dominating, standing out for her serving, hitting, and seemingly making every dig necessary.
“It’s just her drive,” Madison coach Heather Lanning said. “She is one of those kids who has a heart of gold and the drive and the ambition. She will not let a ball drop.”
Weber started playing volleyball when she was 6, at the YMCA in Adrian. She attended volleyball camps at Madison while growing up, then joined a travel team out of Toledo, located about 35 minutes from Madison, which is in Lenawee County. She played two years on the middle school team, then was brought straight to the Trojans varsity as a freshman.
She played her way into the lineup and has stayed there since. Last year she was the only underclassmen in an otherwise all-senior lineup. Despite not being a senior, she was a captain. It is a role she relishes.
“They all depend on me because I’m a captain,” she said. “I love to help them and give them energy. When someone gets a kill or something, I want to congratulate them because it’s a big deal. They love it.”
In the win over Whiteford, Weber recorded her 1,500th career kill. Earlier this year she went over 1,000 digs. It’s kind of like a basketball player having 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds during a career.
“It just goes to show her drive and her ability on the court,” Lanning said. “That’s just Abby.”
Lanning is the second coach Weber has played for during her four-year varsity career. Lanning previously coached the Trojans JV team, so she was familiar with most of the Madison varsity when she got the head coaching job. She didn’t now Weber, but it didn’t take her long to notice what a gem she had inherited.
“She already knew everyone else,” Weber said. “I was into the mix with them.”
Lanning was looking over some statistics from the last couple of seasons when she realized the milestone her returning all-conference and all-county player was nearing.
“She told me I was coming up to 1,500 digs,” Weber said. “I know it was a pretty great accomplishment to get it. I’m happy about it.”
Weber said she couldn’t do it alone. Through Monday she has 1,508 career digs and 1,104 career kills. She had 19 kills and 17 digs in Monday’s match alone.
“My team helps me,” Weber said. “I wouldn’t be able to get a dig if it wasn’t for people helping me and telling me where everyone is, and I wouldn’t have as many kills as I do if it wasn’t for my setters and back row making the pass. It’s because of everyone.”
Driven by a high energy level on the court, Weber often serves, then makes a move to get closer to the net, and, finally, will get to the front row before the ball is back on her team’s side.
“I like to go with the faster-pace tempo,” she said.
Lanning said wherever she puts Weber, she is impressed.
“She’s very effective on the attack from the back row,” Lanning said. “She can still kill it from the back row. It doesn’t matter where she is at.”
The moves Weber made impressed her opposing coach Monday. Whiteford’s Janie Bunge saw far too much of Weber.
“She was everywhere,” Bunge said. “As soon as her rotation came up, she’d serve six or seven points in a row. We couldn’t stop her.”
Weber is interested in playing college volleyball but isn’t sure where at the moment. She’s been looking at some schools at the NAIA level.
“I love being part of a team,” Weber said. “I have made a lot of friends from volleyball and competing against other teams. It’s really fun.”
Madison keeps getting stronger as the season goes on. They are getting contributions from multiple players, including sophomores Tatum Wilson and Jillian Kendrick, four juniors and five of Weber’s fellow seniors, such as Mallory Palpant and Hannah Kendrick. All four of those players had their moments in Monday’s win.
Madison has begun getting some votes in the weekly Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association rankings. The Trojans were among the honorable mention teams in the latest Division 3 poll. The top-ranked team – Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central – is in the District that Madison will host.
“We are thinking about Districts,” Weber said. “We’re just going to try and figure out where the other teams’ holes are and what we need to do.”
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 DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Adrian Madison’s Abby Weber gets high over the net on a kill attempt this season against Sand Creek. (Middle) Webber sends a volley back toward the Aggies’ side of the net. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)
BATTLE CREEK – Natasha Bickel had an up-close look the last time North Branch won a Finals volleyball title. As a ball girl, she was able to watch the Broncos take home a championship at Kellogg Arena.
On Saturday, Bickel got to experience being on the court to win one.
“I remember when I was a ball girl one of the years we won states (2016) and one of the years we didn’t,” Bickel, a senior middle hitter, said. “Except for last year, we haven’t really came this far. Coming back here, being in the Finals and winning it? It put the cherry on top.”
Bickel and the Broncos defeated Cadillac 31-29, 25-18, 25-17 in the Division 2 Final. It was the fourth title for the program, and first since 2016.
“We put a lot into this,” Bickel said. “We’ve poured our lives into this sport. It’s really awesome. This was our goal since we were little. As we were going up every year we were pushing for it, and last year we came so, so close to doing it. We added a freshman and she’s amazing, and everybody is healthy this year. It was just really, really awesome.
North Branch was the Division 2 runner-up a year ago, losing to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the Final. The Broncos downed the Irish in the Regional Final this year, and didn’t drop a set the rest of the way, sweeping Mount Morris in the Quarterfinal and Grand Rapids South Christian in the Semifinal.
So it may have caught some off guard when Cadillac had some early success Saturday night.
Cadillac had North Branch (53-7) on the ropes quickly, jumping out to a 16-9 lead in the first set and forcing the Broncos to take a pair of timeouts over a five-point span.
Vikings middle hitter Carissa Musta, who stands 6-foot-4, was a major reason for that. She had three straight blocks, four total, and two kills during a 10-point run.
While North Branch scrambled to find a way to hit around her, it struggled to get into its offense, and went down 10 before starting to dig out.
“I just said, keep battling guys, keep battling,” North Branch coach Jim Fish said. “That’s the mark of a good team that they’re not going to give up. We didn’t panic, which was good. That’s a huge comeback.”
When the Broncos did dig out, it led to an epic end of the set. North Branch fought off eight Cadillac set points before finally taking the lead back at 29-28.
Freshman Aubree Deshetsky, who kept the Broncos alive initially with four straight high-pressure serves, had the final three kills of the set to put it away. She had eight kills total in the set.
“Aubree Deshetsky’s a stud,” Fish said. “She’s a stud, she does a lot for our team. We had everybody back, and she forced her way into our lineup. She’s just a great player. She’s going to be heard for the next three years.”
While the first-set defeat could have been a back-breaker for a Cadillac team looking to pull an upset, it did not wilt. The Vikings stood toe-to-toe with the Broncos in the second set, despite playing from behind for nearly all of it.
Cadillac (34-11-4) even tied the set at 18 before Bickel helped North Branch rattle off the final seven points to take it. Bickel had three kills in the final stretch, showing off power and finesse in the process.
The Broncos flexed their muscle in the third set, building a 20-8 lead with eight straight points – seven on Bickel’s serve. Her block then put North Branch a point away, and the match was won on a service error.
“If we could have just gotten one of those set points (in the first set), who knows what would have happened,” Cadillac coach Michelle Brines said. “I was really proud of my team, because I don’t know that people gave us much of a chance at all. And, we just played really tough. We played pretty tough for the first set and a half, then it kind of seemed like we were running out of steam a little bit and they were asserting their will.”
Deshetsky finished with 13 kills and 14 digs for the Broncos, while Clara Gyomory had 12 kills and Bickel had 11. Alana Deshetsky finished with nine kills and 22 digs, Hailey Green had 25 digs and Adrienne Greschaw had 45 assists for the Broncos.
Musta led Cadillac with 16 kills and seven blocks. Brooke Ellens had 23 digs, and Cassie Jenema had 30 assists and 17 digs.
PHOTOS (Top) North Branch celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. (Below) Cadillac’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block.