September 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Top volleyball teams: Katherine Carlson buoys Notre Dame Prep's hopes

Change can be a program-killer in high school athletics.

For Betty Wroubel and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, it means another long postseason volleyball run — and The News’ No. 1 preseason ranking.

That’s what Wroubel believes about this year’s team, thanks to 6-foot Katherine Carlson leading the way.

“Having Katherine make things easier,” Wroubel said of Carlson, who had 24 kills in the state semifinals and 25 in a title match last season. “She’s not just a game-changer, she’s a program changer. ...

“I thought I had a once-in-a-lifetime player when I had Molly Coldren (in 2007 state championship season), but I’ve blessed to have two of them.”

Wroubel lost a number of players from last year’s team, including 6-1 Dani McCormick (graduation) and a few others who transferred.

Still, with Carlson as the anchor, Notre Dame Prep has a solid chance to return to Battle Creek.

“Katherine has elevated our program and has made everyone around her better,” Wroubel said. “Her teammates love to play with her. Last year’s team had great offense, this one is a great defensive team with great cohesiveness.”

Joining Carlson (Valparaiso) in the mix are setters Ashley Knutson and Hannah Antosz, along with defensive specialist Bella Bucchi.

2. Farmington Hills Mercy (41-16-2, Class A)

Mercy, which failed to reach the Catholic League final or win a regional title, is led by senior OH Jenna Lerg (Michigan), MB Kayla Fisher and S Shanleigh Conlan. Mercy started its season with tournament titles at Lake Orion and Birmingham Marian.

3. Birmingham Marian (51-16, Class A)

Marian, which reached the state final, lost OH Jessie Kopmeyer and MH Paige Carey, but returns S Meghan Cotant (Butler), who had 57 assists in the state semifinals, senior MH Katarina Mazanka, junior L Delaney Backonen and senior OH Alannah Barash.

4. Romeo (44-8-4, Class A)

Romeo won its first regional title last season since 1998, and returns OH Gia Milana (Maryland), who has been sidelined with a back injury. Filling the void has been sophomore OH Jodie Kelly, sophomore MH Payton Klein, junior MH Erica LaBaere, senior S Lauren Korth and senior L Deanna Krumholz.

5. Clarkston (44-13, Class A)

Clarkston has senior OH Taylor Dellinger (Western Kentucky) and senior S Emily Malinowski back from an OAA Red Division championship team. Freshman OH Abbey Malinowski will try to help Clarkston win its eighth consecutive district title.

6. Marysville (21-24-6, Class B)

Ryan Welser (Grosse Pointe South) takes over as coach, and inherits a team led by senior MB Ali Bastianelli (Illinois) among the top 50 players in the country. Bastianelli will have help up front from junior MB Payton Husson, along with S Devan Valko, L Mikayla Morgan and OH Bailey Bowns.

7. Dearborn Divine Child (24-11, Class B)

Divine Child could be a factor in the Catholic League behind senior MH Riley Blair. Also back are senior OH Keegan Flack and S Rachel Porada. Porada, however, is out with an undisclosed injury. Senior OH Jayci Forster and junior Emily Reedy could contribute.

8. Birmingham Seaholm (27-23-1, Class A)

Seaholm returns all its starters from a team that reached the district final — senior S Paige Zywick and Maddie Varlese, senior L Madison Martin and junior OH Annie Schechter and junior MB Lauren McLeod. Seaholm won the Macomb Dakota tournament.

9. Lake Orion (33-11-4, Class A)

Lake Orion returns OHs Hannah Murdock and Natalie Wehner, along with L Kori Varney and MB Wies Hurkmans. Lake Orion is 11-2-1.

10 (tie). Novi (34-9, Class A)

Novi lost three seniors from a KLAA championship team, but returns junior OH Victoria Iacobelli, senior L Jordan Massab, senior MB Olivia Bradford and OH Paulina Iacobelli. Freshman Erin O’Leary will step in as the setter. Novi won the Ann Arbor Pioneer tournament.

10 (tie). Livonia Churchill (31-15-4, Class A)

Churchill returns the majority of its team, including senior D Lauren St. Pierre, junior OHs Natalie Panek and Rayna Yetts and sophomore MH Annie Yost.

Others: Brighton, Canton, Dearborn, Grosse Pointe North, Lakeland, Livonia Stevenson, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Northville, Plymouth