Lake Orion again has the talent to make a run at the Class A volleyball state championship.
The Dragons were derailed in their title chase by key injuries last season and were eliminated by OAA rival Clarkston in the districts for a second straight year, finishing 46-9.
“We have high expectations this year, as always," Lake Orion coach Tony Scavarda said. "We feel we have the potential to make a deep run in the state playoffs, but we are focusing on staying healthy and trying to win the OAA Red first.”
Scavarda has reason to be optimistic since Lake Orion — which is The Detroit News' No. 1 area team — won three tournaments in August and returns Miss Volleyball candidate in senior outside hitter Paige Briggs (Western Kentucky), along with another heavy hitter in junior right side hitter Sydney Smith, with senior setter Wren Macaulay (New Hampshire) running the offense.
Other key players include senior libero/defensive specialists in Lauren Bell (Northwood) and Ciara Livingway, along with senior outside hitters in Olivia Long and Riley Hunter, sophomore middle blockers Kendall Robertson and Reagan Goeke, senior middle blocker Leigha Boes and senior defensive specialist Annika Devendorf.
“We have good balance on offense and a solid defense,” Scavarda said. “Wren Macaulay is the best setter in the state in my opinion and does a great job of running our attack. Paige Briggs and Sydney Smith have both been able to get kills from the back row as well as the front row. Kendall Robertson has also been a force."
More top teams
2. Farmington Hills Mercy (45-12-1, Class A)
Mercy advanced to the Class A state semifinals last season, losing to Catholic League rival Birmingham Marian.
Mercy returns a talented team that includes 6-2 junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik, a Michigan commit, along with 5-foot-10 sophomore setter Julia Bishop, who is getting Big Ten offers.
“We’re definitely motivated this year, were setting our expectations really high and we’ll work hard every day in the gym and give it our best shot,” Mruzik said.
Mercy also returns starters in 5-11 senior outside hitter Logan Beyer and 5-11 senior middle hitter Mallory Conrad, who has gained valuable experience while playing on the Michigan Elite Club team.
3. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (63-2-2, Class B)
Notre Dame Prep earned the state championship last season, its third (2007, 2013) in the last 11 years and returns a number of key players, including Purdue-bound outside hitter Maddy Chinn and outside hitter Natalie Risi (Ball State).
Chinn, 6-3, had 647 kills last season with a hitting percentage of over .400. Risi had 467 kills and 441 digs last season with a hitting percentage over .350.
Senior outside hitter Maria Famularo, sophomore defensive specialist Olivia Kowalkowski and freshman middle hitter Aly Borellis will be other key contributors.
Notre Dame Prep won the Linden tournament to open the season last month, pushing its tournament win streak to nine and match winning streak at 60, a program record.
4. Birmingham Marian (45-12-1, Class A)
Marian advanced to the state championship match, falling to three-time champion Novi.
Mayssa Bazzi-Cook is the third coach in as many years at Marian, replacing Lauren Duquette, who guided Marian to the state title match in her lone season of leading the program.
Bazzi-Cook guided a 42-0 Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard team to the Class B state title in 2015, becoming the first team to go unbeaten since Fraser in 2002.
“Things are going well working with four freshmen, eight seniors and not much in the middle, so it is a challenge,” Bazzi-Cook said. “The four freshmen are talented and will be key contributors and right now they’re getting adjusted to varsity ball, and the seniors are adjusting to a new coach.”
Marian is led by 5-8 senior setter Maddie Dowd, a Miss Volleyball candidate, along with 5-8 junior outside hitter Christine Audette, senior defensive specialists Mallory Lynch and Sarah Cavanaugh, 5-11 freshman outside hitter Ava Bricard, 6-2 freshman middle hitter Sarah Sylvester, and 5-11 freshmen outside hitters Tatum Casper and Sophia Treder.
5. Northville (42-8-2, Class A)
Northville has had Novi sitting as a roadblock with its numerous star players the past four years, but several have now moved on, including Miss Volleyball Erin O’Leary to Michigan.
Northville has the talent to go deep in the postseason, if it can get past Novi this time around.
Northville is led by Michigan State-bound libero Hannah Grant and joined by a strong supporting cast consisting of senior setter Gabi Fisette, 5-11 junior outside hitter Clare McNamara, sophomore outside hitter Jenna Boksha and senior defensive specialist Ally Zayan, who is a four-year varsity player.
“We have 16 players, led by my returning seven seniors,” said third year coach Julie Fisette, who has a 88-15-4 record at Northville heading into this season with eight of the losses coming at the hands of Novi.
6. New Baltimore Anchor Bay (44-7-1, Class A)
Emily Hite replaces Brittney McGinnis as head coach at Anchor Bay, inheriting a team that lost to Farmington Hills Mercy in the state quarterfinals.
Anchor Bay returns the majority of its starters, including outside hitter Natalie Stass, defensive specialist Jenna Swinkowski and junior libero Khloe Stoll.
Anchor Bay was dealt a severe blow when outside hitter Nicole Golder, a Wayne State commit, suffered an ACL injury during the club season. She could return for postseason play.
7. Clarkston (31-13, Class A)
Clarkston got off to a 10-4 start this season after advancing to the regional final last year, losing to Marian.
Coach Kelly Pinner has five players back, including junior outside hitter Jordan Newblatt, sophomore outside hitter Claire Nowicki and sophomore middle hitter Alana Watlington.
“We are young and expect improvement all year long,” Pinner said. “We have three seniors and two returning starters and currently three sophomores are part of the starting rotation.”
8. Brighton (30-14, Class A)
Scott Pitcher takes over as head coach at Brighton, which is off to a 13-2-3 start, including a Legacy Legends tournament title at Schoolcraft Community College.
Pitcher will be looking for leadership from junior setter-outside hitter Celia Cullen, a Michigan State commit.
Cullen will be working with a supporting cast that includes libero Analise Berry, 6-1 junior middle hitter Solana Hickinson and sophomore outside hitter Ashley Brown.
9. Bloomfield Hills (36-12, Class A)
Bloomfield Hills is off to a 9-4-1 start in Larry Wyatt’s first year as head coach.
Wyatt has plenty of talent to work with, including 6-3 junior Alexa Rousseau, a Northwestern commit, 5-5 freshman outside hitter Ava Petrucci and junior Alivia Slazinski.
Wyatt, who was head coach at Fraser more than a decade ago, was founder and director at Michigan Elite.
10. Novi (56-3, Class A)
Don’t expect Novi to reach the state championship match for the fifth straight year this November. It lost a large senior class, including Miss Volleyball winner and four-year starting setter Erin O’Leary.
Jennifer Cottrill stepped down after guiding Novi to three consecutive Class A state titles. Kacy Morin is the new head coach and inherits a team that is led by 6-0 senior middle hitter Jaeda Porter, the Jennings sisters — Shannon, a 5-9 junior setter and Rachel, a 5-8 sophomore defensive specialist — along with 6-0 sophomore outside hitter Gabby Cummings.
Other teams to watch: Ann Arbor Skyline, Livonia Churchill, Macomb Dakota, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Plymouth Christian; Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Saline, South Lyon, Utica Eisenhower, Wixom St. Catherine of Siena Academy.