Detroit News top volleyball teams: O’Leary, Novi are No. 1

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Erin O'Leary (14)

Novi – Jennifer Cottrill was named Michigan High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year earlier this month.

That’s what happens when you’ve guided your program to three consecutive state title match appearances like Cottrill has done at Novi, winning Class A state championships in 2015 and again last season. Novi could become the first Class A team to win three straight state titles since Portage Northern won four straight from 1992-95.

Novi, which has a 180-2 record the last four years, is 22-2 this season with its lone losses coming with outside hitters Abryanna Cannon and Kathryn Ellison out of the lineup due to injuries. They have since returned, a reason Novi is The Detroit News’ No. 1 team in Metro Detroit.

Cottrill has to feel confident with a strong nucleus, led by Michigan-bound setter Erin O’Leary and a pair of heavy outside hitters in the 6-foot-1 Cannon (Northwestern) and Ellison (Kent State), along with senior libero Claire Pinkerton.

“When she (O’Leary) started we weren’t a super offensive team. But now we’ve got Abryanna Cannon, who is a Big Ten outside hitter, and Kathryn Ellison, a MAC player, so we have two big guns,” said Cottrill, who is joined by her husband Ricky Cottrill – a former Eastern Michigan basketball player – on her staff.

More: Detroit News top volleyball players: O’Leary, Rousseau lead list

O’Leary knows teams will be coming in with their best games against Novi.

“It’s fun, really all we’ve ever known,” O’Leary said. “My freshman year we were sort of the underdogs, but ever since then people have always been out to get us. I think we’ve grown to kind of get used to it, but we also appreciate it because it’s always exciting and you always know every game people are going to be pumped up to play us.”

O’Leary knows she has a lot of weapons.

“Abryanna (Cannon) and Kathryn (Ellison) can really put the ball down and I know I can rely on them no matter at what point in the game to get some points,” O’Leary said. “Jaeda Porter and Savanna Frick, our two middles, have really stepped up and gotten kills, and we’ve needed them to since our offense is more balanced this year.”

2. Farmington Hills Mercy (42-11, Class A)

Mercy advanced to the regional final last year, losing to Novi.

Mercy ninth-year co-coaches Andrew Thompson and his mother, Loretta Vogel, have a strong group to work with, led by 6-1 sophomore outside hitter Jess Mruzik, a Michigan commit, senior outside hitter Lauren Hunter, a four-year starter, and Logan Beyer, a 5-11 junior outside hitter, along with 5-11 junior middle hitter Mallory Conrad.

Thompson said Mercy is going with a freshman setter in 5-10 Julia Bishop.

“Julia’s been a nice surprise coming in, played high level club since she was 10,” said Thompson of Bishop. “She’s already getting looked at by Big Ten schools. She’s been our starter since she’s come in.”

Mercy opened the season with a 20-4 record, including wins over Lake Orion and Clarkston. Mercy wouldn’t meet Novi or Rockford until the state final.

3. Lake Orion (44-15, Class A)

Coach Tony Scavarda said Lake Orion’s goal is to reach Battle Creek to compete for the state championship.

Lake Orion is motivated after getting eliminated by Clarkston in the district final. Lake Orion opened the season with a 33-5 record, defeating Novi in the final of the Novi tournament Sept. 9 and splitting with Rockford last weekend.

Lake Orion has multiple Division 1 players, led by 5-10 junior outside hitter Paige Briggs (Western Kentucky), senior libero Illyria Kalaj (Western Michigan) and junior setter Wren Macaulay, who has offers from Coastal Carolina, Campbell and Massachusetts. Senior Danielle Sargent, a 6-1 middle hitter, is another key contributor.

“Our goal is Battle Creek and we feel we can beat anybody if we stay healthy,” said Scavarda.

4. Clarkston (50-6, Class A)

Clarkston returns Michigan-bound outside hitter Abbey Malinowski, along with middle hitter Kayla Luchenbach and libero Jen Chupinsky from a team that reached the regional finals.

Malinowski is an outstanding go-to player and has size (6-1) and power to slam the ball down in clutch situations.

Clarkston opened the season with a 20-8 record with six of the losses coming at the hands of Mercy and Lake Orion. Clarkston plays at Lake Orion in a OAA Red Division match Tuesday.

5. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (52-10, Class B)

Notre Dame Prep is the top ranked team in Class B, jumping out to a 30-2-2 start behind the strong play of junior outside hitters Madeline Chinn and Natalie Risi, along with middle hitter Gabi Shilling and setter Lauren Burnick.

“We have six girls who started on varsity as freshmen and they have gained valuable experience,” coach Betty Wroubel said.

Chinn is a Purdue commit and Risi, Ball State. Shilling will play at Rhode Island and junior right side hitter Morgan Verheyen has Division 1 offers, and sophomore middle attacker Taylor Raiola – daughter of former Lions center Dominic Raiola – is getting Division 1 interest. Burnick has committed to Lake Erie College and junior libero Maria Famularo is also a key contributor.

6. Macomb Dakota (37-15, Class A)

Dakota is a perennial MAC Red Division power, advancing to the regional semifinals last season where it lost to Clarkston.

Dakota returns nine players, including eight seniors, led by libero Anja Savich, outside hitter Lacey Juengel, middle hitters Emily Stewart and Maddie Thomas, setter Olivia Patton, right side hitters Nichole Hyduk and Olivia Miller, and defensive specialist Liz Stevens.

7. New Baltimore Anchor Bay (22-16, Class A)

Anchor Bay started out 19-3 this season, going 4-0 in the MAC Red while sweeping Utica Eisenhower, Romeo, Grosse Pointe North and Marysville.

Anchor Bay is led by 5-9 outside hitter Maria Mallon, a Cincinnati commit and potential Miss Volleyball candidate. Junior outside hitter Nicole Golder, setter Justine Stewart, sophomore libero Khloe Stoll, defensive specialist Jenna Swinkowski and outside hitter Natalie Strass are other key contributors.

“We have great team chemistry,” said coach Brittney McGinnis. “They don’t get down. We’ve been down by 10 points in matches and come back to win.”

8. Birmingham Marian (48-15, Class A)

Lauren Duquette replaces Angela Kalczynski as head coach after holding the same position at Rochester the last several years.

She inherits a team that showcases Notre Dame-bound Lauren Wenzel, a 6-2 middle blocker, and junior setter Madison Dowd (Georgetown). Maggie DePorre, a 5-10 outside hitter and 5-9 sophomore outside hitter Christine Audette are also key contributors.

Marian got off to a 14-5-1 start with two of its losses coming against teams from Ohio, two more from Notre Dame Prep and the other from Clarkston.

9. Utica Eisenhower (42-10-1, Class A)

Eisenhower is the defending MAC Red champions, advancing to the regional semifinals, and off to a 13-5-2 start.

Eisenhower returns a strong nucleus in outside hitters Hailey Barden and Marissa Durand, along with libero Sam Palazzolo.

“We are still learning and growing this year, trying to build on our team chemistry and confident we will get there,” Coach Caitlin LaPratt said. “We are bringing back our power hitters in Hailey Barden and Marissa Durand.”

10. Bloomfield Hills (35-12, Class A)

Bloomfield Hills is loaded with talent, including 6-2 sophomore setter Alexa Rousseau, 6-0 middle hitter Olivia Smith and 5-10 outside hitter Julia Carabias from a team that lost to Birmingham Marian in the district championship match.

Rousseau has multiple offers, including Stanford and Michigan.

"It's great to have somebody of her (Rousseau) caliber, but we also have some strong players in Olivia Smith, Julia Carabias and our libero Julie Charlick," said coach Bob Hurdle, who said sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Keele has been out for three weeks with a stress fracture and is expected to miss another three weeks.

Other teams to watch: Ann Arbor Skyline, Birmingham Seaholm, Brighton, Marysville, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Northville, Plymouth Christian.