By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Three reigning champions will return to MHSAA Volleyball Finals weekend beginning Thursday at Battle Creek's Kellogg Arena. Also making the trip are eight teams that have never won an MHSAA title.
And it's guaranteed at least one of those hopefuls will get the chance, as Class C semifinalists Brown City and Adrian Madison open the final three days of this season in a match to determine which will play for a championship Saturday for the first time.
Click for the schedule in full plus information on live broadcasts of all 12 matches on MHSAA.tv and MHSAANetwork.com. Below is a glance at all 16 contenders, with statistics through last week's Regional Finals.
Record/rank: 46-5-3, unranked
Coach: Jerry Eisinger, third season (124-32-16)
League finish: First in Flint Metro League.
Championship history: Three runner-up finishes (most recent 1992).
Best wins: 3-2 over No. 2 Clarkston in the Regional Final, 3-2 over No. 10 Utica Eisenhower in the Regional Semifinal, 2-0 and 2-0 over Class B No. 10 Frankenmuth, 2-0 over Class C No. 6 Brown City.
Players to watch: Kiley Aldred, 5-6 sr. S (1,132 assists, 381 digs); Jessica Warford, 5-11 sr. OH (640 kills, .320 hitting %, 403 digs); Chloe Idoni, 5-11 soph. OH (433 kills, .390 hitting %, 107 blocks, 64 aces).
Finals forecast: Fenton has been building toward this during Eisinger’s three seasons, adding a second league and third District title during his tenure this fall. Fenton opened 10-1 and never really slowed down; the Tigers also went 4-1 against Class B honorable mention Goodrich and have won 11 straight – highlighted by the upset-filled Regional title run. This will be their first Semifinal appearance since 1992. Warford and senior defensive specialist Taylor Mowery (566 digs this season) were all-region picks a year ago and are two of senior seniors.
Record/rank: 52-1, No. 1
Coach: Jennifer Cottrill, fifth season (230-21-2)
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Central, Kensington and overall.
Championship history: Class A champion 2015, runner-up 2014.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 7 Farmington Hills Mercy in the Regional Final, 3-0 over honorable mention Bloomfield Hills Marian in the Quarterfinal, 3-1 (District Final), 2-1, 3-0, 3-0 over No. 6 Northville; 2-0 over No. 9 Grand Haven, 2-1 and 3-0 over Class B No. 3 North Branch.
Players to watch: Erin O’Leary, 5-10 jr. S (1,305 assists, 209 kills, .472 hitting %, 70 aces, 363 digs); Ally Cummings, 5-11 sr. RS (418 kills, .348 hitting %, 54 blocks, 302 digs); Abryanna Cannon, 6-1 jr. OH (403 kills, .388 hitting %, 65 aces, 387 digs).
Finals forecast: The reigning champion Wildcats are an incredible 157-10 over the last three seasons, with their only loss this fall to No. 2 Clarkston. Cummings was a finalist for the Miss Volleyball Award, and O’Leary no doubt will be a heavy favorite next season and is nationally-renowned for her age group. Novi’s run this fall also has included multiple wins over Class A honorable mentions Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and one each over honorable mentions Saline, Macomb Dakota and Class D No. 1 Plymouth Christian. The Wildcats have given up only six sets in 53 matches, and more than one only in that 2-1 loss to the Wolves. Junior libero Claire Pinkerton (555 digs this season) joined all-state first-team O’Leary and second-teamer Cummings with all-region honors a year ago.
Record/rank: 47-8-1, No. 5
Coach: Kelly Delacher, 12th season (461-217-12)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.
Championship history: Class A champion 2011.
Best wins: 3-2 over No. 4 Portage Central in the Quarterfinal, 3-2 (Regional Final), 3-1, 3-0, 2-0 over No. 9 Grand Haven; 3-0 over honorable mention Lowell in the District Final, 3-0 over No. 6 Northville, 3-0 over No. 8 Grand Rapids Christian, 2-0 over Class B No. 1 Lake Odessa Lakewood, 2-0 over Class B No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.
Players to watch: Hailey Delacher, 5-5 jr. S (1,489 assists, 261 digs); Kendra DeJonge, 5-11 sr. OH (445 kills, 62 aces, 277 digs); Cassandra Smigiel, 6-0 sr. MH (314 kills, .320 hitting %, 70 blocks).
Finals forecast: The Rams played many of the best across the Lower Peninsula, defeating Portage Central on Tuesday after falling twice to the Mustangs during the regular season. This fall’s run also has included two wins over Class B No. 8 Grand Rapids South Christian, another over Class B No. 7 Cadillac, one each over Class A or B honorable mentions Richland Gull Lake, Ada Forest Hills Eastern and Fruitport, and an early-season 2-0 over Temperance Bedford. Hailey Delacher made the all-state second team last season, DeJonge earned honorable mention, and now-junior middle Olivia Rademacher (274 kills 75 blocks this season) joined them as all-region. Junior Sara Majerle is another big hitter with 435 kills plus 266 digs and 65 aces this fall.
Record/rank: 56-13-3, unranked
Coach: Jodi Manore, 32nd season (1,927-325-55)
League finish: Second in Southeastern Conference.
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2005), five runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-2 (Regional Final) and 3-2 over honorable mention Saline, 3-0 over Class B No. 7 Cadillac, 2-0 over Class C No. 6 Brown City, 2-0 over Class B No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 2-0 over Class B No. 6 Battle Creek Harper Creek.
Players to watch: Heidi Fausze, 5-11 jr. OH (468 kills, .350 hitting %, 96 aces); Erika Wilt, 5-9 sr. OH (435 kills, .373 hitting %, 506 digs); Levi Lennard, 5-9 soph. S (1,400 assists, 259 digs).
Finals forecast: The Kicking Mules have won 14 of their last 15 matches as they travel to their fourth Semifinal over the last six seasons. Manore is the state’s winningest volleyball coach all-time, and as evidenced by the program’s 23-0 record in Quarterfinals, few know better how to win at this stage. Wilt and now-senior libero Taylor Haberland (1,065 digs, 65 aces this fall) were all-region selections a year ago, and they and those also mentioned above have plenty of help. Four others in addition to Fausze and Wilt also have at least 150 kills this season, with 5-10 junior middle Mackenzie Fuleky hitting at a .426 clip with 96 blocks and seniors Jaycie Harris and Brynn Duvall combining for 504 kills and 141 blocks.
Record/rank: 49-6, No. 5
Coach: Lisa Holok, 13th season (501-183)
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red.
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 9 Grant in the Quarterfinal, 3-1 (Regional Semifinal) and 2-0 over No. 6 Battle Creek Harper Creek, 2-0 over Class C No. 2 Bronson, 2-0 over Temperance Bedford, 3-2 over Class D No. 2 Mendon.
Players to watch: Franki Strefling, 5-10 sr. OH (351 kills, 214 digs); Britta Mollberg, 5-7 sr. S (356 digs), Alex Tobler, 5-9 sr. OH (588 kills, 349 digs).
Finals forecast: Buchanan vanquished annual nemesis Harper Creek during the Regional and has made the Semifinals for the first time ever in Class B – its previous two trips were in Class C in 1991 and 1978. The Bucks also have shined despite losing Eastern Michigan-bound and 2015 all-state third-teamer Strefling with an injury for part of the season; she’s back and heads a seven-player senior class that has been part of three league and three District titles. Mollberg and senior libero Taylor Strauss (432 digs this fall) also made all-region last season, and 6-0 middle Liz Kuntz had added 313 kills and a team-high 131 blocks entering the week.
Record/rank: 50-7-2, No. 7
Coach: Michelle Brines, 17th season (705-204-37)
League finish: First in Big North Conference.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 3-1 (Quarterfinal) and 2-1 over honorable mention Corunna, 2-0 over No. 9 Grant, 2-1 over No. 10 Frankenmuth, 2-0 over Class C No. 5 Traverse City St. Francis, 2-1 and 2-1 over Temperance Bedford.
Players to watch: Kylie Christensen, 6-1 sr. MH (589 kills, .400 hitting %, 141 blocks, 358 digs); Ali Finch, 6-1 sr. S (1,123 assists, 330 kills, 416 digs, 95 blocks, 74 aces); Gabby Kapuscinski, 5-9 jr. OH (283 kills, 472 digs).
Finals forecast: This final week has become almost an annual part of Cadillac’s season, as the Vikings played Tuesday in a Quarterfinal for the eighth straight season and advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 2013. They also won their 11th District title in a row, and Corunna’s one set win was the first given up by Cadillac in its last 12 matches this fall. Four seniors anchor a mostly-veteran lineup that also features a freshman; Christensen and Finch made the all-state second team last season and Kapuscinski joined them as all-region.
LAKE ODESSA LAKEWOOD
Record/rank: 53-5, No. 1
Coach: Kellie Rowland, 21st season (980-148-5)
League finish: First in Greater Lansing Activities Conference.
Championship history: Class B champion 2012, two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 2-0 over No. 8 Grand Rapids South Christian, 2-0 over honorable mention Ada Forest Hills Eastern, 2-0 over Class A No. 4 Portage Central, 2-0 over Class A No. 5 Rockford, 2-1 over Class A No. 8 Grand Rapids Christian, 2-0 over Class A honorable mention Richland Gull Lake.
Players to watch: Gabie Shellenbarger, 5-6 sr. S (1,339 assists, 106 blocks, 306 digs, 75 aces); Breanna Wickerink, 5-9 jr. MB (563 kills, .465 hitting %, 143 blocks); Lisa Hewitt, 5-10 jr. MB (132 kills, 124 blocks).
Finals forecast: The Vikings are back in the Semifinals for the third time in five seasons with six players back who saw time during the 2014 championship match loss to North Branch and a seventh who was injured earlier in that run; Shellenbarger, Hewitt and senior right-side hitter Rebecca Kutch started in that Final. Shellenbarger made the all-state first team last season (Hewitt made all-region with her) and sets for five hitters who have at least 130 kills. Kutch adds 157, 321 digs and 79 aces, and junior Alivia Benedict has tallied 373 kills with a .345 hitting percentage. In addition to wins mentioned above, Lakewood swept Class D No. 2 Mendon, No. 4 Lansing Christian and Class C No. 9 Laingsburg.
Record/rank: 56-9, No. 3
Coach: Jim Fish, 17th season (974-161-46)
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East.
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the Regional Semifinal, 3-0, 2-0 and 2-0 over honorable mention Goodrich in the Regional Final, 2-0 over No. 7 Cadillac, 3-0 over No. 10 Frankenmuth, 3-0 over honorable mention Corunna, 2-0 over honorable mention Marysville, 2-0 over Class A No. 2 Clarkton, 2-1 over Class A No. 6 Northville, 2-1 and 2-1 over Class A honorable mention Lake Orion.
Players to watch: Olivia Fike, 6-1 sr. OH/MH (528 kills, .362 hitting %, 96 blocks); Madee Miner, 5-8 sr. S (1,170 assists, 150 kills, 116 aces, 282 digs); Allyson Severance, 6-1 soph. OH (227 kills, 234 digs).
Finals forecast: Four of six starters are back from last season’s Class B runner-up team, and Fike and Miner also started in the 2014 championship match win. Fike and Severance made the all-state first team last season and Miner made the second team, while sophomore hitter Reese Ruhlman joined them as all-region. Junior right-side hitter Janel Ruhlman has become a big contributor this season with 328 kills, second most on the team. Another tough schedule has the Broncos ready for the weekend; in addition to the wins above, North Branch also downed Class A honorable mention Lowell, Class C No. 6 Brown City twice and Class D No. 1 Plymouth Christian, plus Class A semifinalist Fenton.
Record/rank: 57-3-2, unranked
Coach: Dawn Opsal, 19th season (561-254-82)
League finish: First in Tri-County Conference.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 3-2 over No. 1 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Regional Final, 2-0 over Class D honorable mention Pittsford, 2-0 over Class D honorable mention Camden-Frontier.
Players to watch: Courtney Benschoter, sr. OH (523 kills, .349 hitting %, 51 blocks, 402 digs, 76 aces); Kiarah Horn, jr. S (1,470 assists, 279 digs, 75 aces); Ysabela Soto, sr. OH (422 kills, 356 digs, 77 aces)
Finals forecast: Madison cruised through the regular season, giving up only 13 sets. And the Trojans have made that dominance stand up in the tournament as well, giving up three sets over six matches while eliminating the top-ranked Kestrels. Benschoter and Soto were all-region picks last year and join sophomore Kaiya Wall (496 kills, .322 hitting percentage, 67 blocks) for a formidable group of hitters. Middle Amia Benson gives the team a third senior starter, but she, Benschoter and Soto are the team’s only spring graduates.
Record/rank: 48-9-6, No. 2
Coach: Jean LaClair, 16th season (744-273-62)
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Blue.
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 9 Laingsburg in the Quarterfinal, 3-0 (Regional Final) and 2-1 over No. 8 Kalamazoo Christian, 2-1 over No. 5 Traverse City St. Francis, 2-0 over honorable mention Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, 3-0 and 3-1 over Class D No. 2 Mendon, 3-0 over Class B No. 5 Buchanan.
Players to watch: Jill Pyles, 5-10 sr. MH (363 kills, .331 hitting %, 100 aces, 141 blocks); Allison Sikorski, 5-9 sr. OH (409 kills, 60 aces, 450 digs); Kiana Mayer, 5-11 jr. S (1,435 assists, 93 aces, 175 kills, 115 blocks, 305 digs).
Finals forecast: Pyles, Sikorski and Mayer (as an outside hitter) all started on the team that swept Monroe St. Mary in last season’s championship match, as did now-sophomore middle Ashton Wronikowski (202 kills, 114 blocks this season). Also, now-sophomore Kiera Lasky was an all-region libero as Pyles made the all-state first team and Sikorski made the second. LaClair is one of the state’s all-time winningest coaches with 1,063 victories over three stops and 22 seasons, and her team is unbeaten over its last 20 matches (18-0-2).
Record/rank: 44-9-5, No. 6
Coach: Jenna Welke, fourth season (144-42-18)
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference East.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 4 New Lothrop in the Quarterfinal, 2-1 and 2-0 over Class B honorable mention Marysville, 2-0 and 2-0 over Class B honorable mention Croswell-Lexington, 2-0 over Class D No. 6 Auburn Hills Oakland Christian.
Players to watch: Becki Krause, sr. OH (586 kills, .326 hitting %, 83 aces, 108 blocks, 466 digs); Breigha Donnelly, sr. RS (210 kills, 106 blocks, 398 digs, 66 aces); Alexia Mason, sr. S (1,006 assists, 105 aces, 401 digs, 89 blocks).
Finals forecast: After making the Semifinals last season for the first time, Brown City is back with three starters from the team that fell in five sets to eventual runner-up Monroe St. Mary. Sophomore outside hitter Kendal Muxlow (266 kills, 106 aces, 79 blocks this season) joined Krause and Mason in the lineup, while now-junior libero Jasmin Bender (553 digs in 2016) rotated in off the bench. Brown City advanced this time by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to Shelby in the Quarterfinal; those two sets were the first the Green Devils had given up this postseason. Krause made the all-state second team and Mason was an honorable mention last fall.
Record/rank: 40-10, honorable mention
Coach: Lisa Twardzik, 20th season (625-131-43)
League finish: First in Western Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Championship history: Class C runner-up 2008.
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 5 Traverse City St. Francis in the Quarterfinal, 3-1 over honorable mention Rudyard in the Regional Final, 2-1 over Class D honorable mention Suttons Bay, 2-1 over Class D honorable mention Rogers City.
Players to watch: Anna Johnson, 5-6 sr. S (163 aces, 285 digs); Hailey Wickstrom, 6-3 sr. RS (595 kills, 182 digs, 55 blocks); Lea Bjorn, 5-9 jr. OH (264 kills, 243 digs).
Finals forecast: After four straight Quarterfinal misses, Calumet avenged last season’s loss to St. Francis by winning to advance this time. Wickstrom was an all-state honorable mention a year ago and Johnson joined her as all-region; together they lead a team that has won 28 of its last 29 matches since also falling to St. Francis 2-0 midseason. The Copper Kings have given up only three sets during the postseason and over the closing run also avenged previous losses this fall to rivals Hancock and Houghton.
AUBURN HILLS OAKLAND CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 42-4-5, No. 6
Coach: Priscilla Larned, 32nd season (988-458-81)
League finish: Tied for first in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 3-2 over No. 1 Plymouth Christian, 2-0 over honorable mention Brighton Charyl Stockwell, 3-1 over Portland St. Patrick in the Quarterfinal.
Players to watch: Samantha Morse, sr. S (1,070 assists, 282 digs); Alexandra Gudobba, sr. OH (502 kills, .378 hitting %, 92 aces, 481 digs); Starr Sumner, sr. MH (317 kills, .392 hitting %, 93 aces, 66 blocks).
Finals forecast: Oakland Christian is back in the Semifinals for the fifth time and first time since 2013. The set given up to St. Patrick was the only set lost by the Lancers this postseason. The team’s 42 wins also are their most under longtime coach Larned since 2009. Oakland Christian has seven seniors, and six start; outside hitter Marisa Mingle had added 306 kills, 116 aces and 426 digs heading this week.
Record/rank: 42-10-4, No. 3
Coach: Laurie Glass, 22nd season (871-258-87)
League finish: Second in Northwest Conference.
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), six runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 9 Fife Lake Forest Area in the Quarterfinal, 3-1 (District opener), 3-0 and 3-0 over honorable mention Suttons Bay; 2-0 over honorable mention Camden-Frontier, 2-0 over Class B honorable mention Saginaw Swan Valley, 2-0 over Class C honorable mention Calumet, 2-0 over Class C No. 5 Traverse City St. Francis.
Players to watch: Allie Martin, 5-7 sophomore OH (534 kills, 114 aces, 479 digs); Ella Siddall, 5-4, soph. S (1,100 assists, 63 aces); Rowan Wilson, 5-7 jr. OPP (373 kills, 475 digs).
Finals forecast: Leland broke Battle Creek St. Philip’s nine-season hold on the Class D title last fall and proceeded to graduate three all-state hitters. But the Comets also had two starring freshmen in 2015, and Siddall is back after making the all-state first team while Martin made the second and senior libero Julie Bardenhagen (514 digs this fall) earned honorable mention. Tuesday’s win was the 1,000th for Glass, who also has coached at Traverse City Central, and it moved Leland’s record against Class D teams to 18-0 this season. Her team played at least 11 matches against teams from every class and finished with a winning record against all four.
Record/rank: 33-11-1, No. 1
Coach: DJ Kellogg, second season (69-16-4)
League finish: Tied for first in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 2 Mendon in the Quarterfinal, 3-1 over No. 4 Lansing Christian in the Regional Final, 3-0 over No. 10 North Adams-Jerome in the Regional Semifinal, 3-1 over No. 6 Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2-1 over Class B No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 2-0 over Class C No. 5 Traverse City St. Francis.
Players to watch: Grace Kellogg, 5-9 jr. OH/DS (403 kills, 331 digs); Gabriella Kellogg, 5-9 fr. MB (241 kills, .327 hitting %) Jessica Paulson, 5-10 sr. S (724 assists).
Finals forecast: Plymouth Christian makes the trip to Kellogg as the top-ranked team in Class D for the second season in a row and with six of the seven players who saw action in last season’s Semifinal loss. The Eagles have certainly justified their top ranking, and prepped by playing a number of bigger schools – 10 of their 11 losses were to Class A and B teams, including the top two ranked teams in Class A at the end of the regular season.
Record/rank: 35-10-1, honorable mention
Coach: Jackie Quaine, ninth season (297-101-34)
League finish: First in North Star League Big Dipper.
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C champion 1988, runner-up 1987.
Best wins: 3-1 over honorable mention Crystal Falls Forest Park in the Quarterfinal, 3-0 over No. 7 DeTour in the Regional Semifinal, 3-0 (District Semifinal) and 3-0 over No. 5 Onaway.
Players to watch: Taylor Fleming, 5-11 soph. MH (360 kills, 104 blocks); Erika Peacock, 5-2 sr. S (322 assists, 62 aces, 138 digs); Kayla Rabeau, 5-7 jr. MH (252 kills, 99 aces, 366 digs).
Finals forecast: Rogers City is at the Semifinals for the first time since playing in Class C in 2003. The Hurons have lost only one set during the postseason, against Forest Park. That broke a 10-match sweep streak, and total the team has won 20 straight. Four seniors start; Peacock is joined by defensive specialist Mary Brege and outside hitters Hannah Dittmar and Saige Wagner.
PHOTO: Cadillac's Ali Finch (5) sets up a teammate during Tuesday's Quarterfinal win over Corunna. (Click for more from Varsity Monthly.)