By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
BATTLE CREEK – Carli Snyder was easy to find for a few reasons in the minutes before Macomb Dakota finished its first championship run Saturday at Kellogg Arena.
She was the only member of her team warming up in a power blue T-shirt, for example. Then there were the secret handshakes, each one different for every other starter on the floor.
But the most obvious show-stopper was simply the ridiculousness with which the 6-foot-1 Snyder smashed every ball into the wood below.
Especially at the high school level, an uncommon athlete is easy to spot. Snyder, a two-time all-stater who led the Cougars to the Class A title Saturday, is that athlete. She put the finishing touches over the weekend on one of the best hitting seasons in MHSAA volleyball history. And by this time next year, we might be calling her a two-time champion – and Miss Volleyball.
“Her sophomore year, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so (good).’ And then coming into this year, you didn't think she’d get that much better,” Dakota coach Tracie Ferguson said. “It’s just amazing how much she’s gotten better. I didn't think it was possible because she was so good last year.
“It’s just her mentality on the court and her leadership on the court and just keeping those girls calm and saying, ‘ We've got this.’ She’s grown so much since she was a freshman, on the mental part of it.”
Snyder gets a Second Half High 5 for leading her team to an unprecedented height. Unofficially, she finished this fall with 913 kills – good for seventh for one season in MHSAA history since the beginning of the rally scoring era in 2004-05. She had 31 kills in the Final, third most for a championship match since the scoring change. She also tallied 14 digs and three aces.
But this season, she took on something more that helped the Cougars go farther than they ever had during the 17-year history of the school.
“When I was a freshman in high school, we’d joke, ‘Freshman Carli lets out’ when I’d yell at the ref or something. I used to pull on my ears. I’d flip out if I did something wrong,” Snyder remembered Saturday. “This year, if I made a mistake, it’s next ball. Everybody knows I've got this, and it’s not the end of the world.
“A couple of years ago, it really seemed like it was.”
Dakota finished 19-27-3 the season before Snyder started high school. With her as a freshman, the Cougars improved to 28-17-4. Last fall, Dakota finished 32-13-2 and won a Regional title. And this season’s final record was 59-5.
That’s not to say Snyder was the only reason for the success. Half of Dakota’s starting lineup was seniors, and Snyder is one of four juniors talented enough to break into the main rotation. The rest of the lineup combined for 19 kills, and junior setter Megan Manuerski had 43 assists to also rank on the MHSAA Finals record book list.
But Snyder was the playmaker. Bedford managed only five blocks against Dakota. Snyder had only two errors on 54 attacks for an incredible .537 kill percentage.
“She’s pretty darn good. I wish she was a senior,” joked Bedford coach Jodi Manore, who has seen her share of big hitters over 28 seasons. “She was up over the top of us.”
Everyone knows by this point that Snyder is going to be on the attack just about every time. She had 50 of her team’s 94 kills on the weekend. Defenses are rarely caught off-guard. “It’s difficult. But I've played volleyball for a while so I’m not used to it, I’d say, but it’s kind of expected,” Snyder said. “And Megan, she puts the ball where sometimes the other team doesn't know. She holds the block so well."
Snyder will no doubt enter next season among favorites for that Miss Volleyball award, along with Battle Creek St. Philip hitter Sierra Hubbard-Neil among those who claimed championships over the weekend. Snyder also has already committed to play at the University of Florida, the Southeastern Conference champion this fall.
And she'll get plenty more chances to add to her legacy as the Cougars likely will enter next fall as Class A favorites again.
“Physically, yeah, she’s hitting the ball harder. She’s jumping higher. Absolutely,” Ferguson said. “But that’s going to continue as she grows.
“But the mentality part of it, she’s just such a great player to play with. You want her on your team. She’s just such a motivator and a confidence builder for the rest of them. She really led the way.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Macomb Dakota's Carli Snyder (5) celebrates a point with her team during Saturday's championship match. (Middle) Snyder swings on one of her many kills attempts against Temperance Bedford.