With two new coaches to the county’s top two programs, one conference switch and a reshuffling of another, and a sleeper team that just might end up taking the title of best in the area by season’s end, this should be a fun season of volleyball in Livingston County.
Brighton and Hartland got new coaches with the Bulldogs’ Shelley Sims and the Eagles’ Katy Westernburg both resigning, and the two schools will now be doing battle in the new KLAA Gold. Pinckney moves to the SEC White, where it hopes to be more competitive against schools that measure up more closely in terms of size.
But the team that may end of being the talk of the town is Class C Charyl Stockwell.
Head coach Paula Gallentine is excited for the upcoming season, and understandably so, as CSPA boasts a strong squad of returners, including all-staters, Paige Gallentine and Theresa Kehn, as well as highly-touted incoming freshman Jenna Vaske.
CSPA is ranked No. 7 by Michigan High School Volleyball Insider, and that’s with moving up from Class D. Many are beginning to take notice, and considering CSPA has two potential Division I prospects (Gallentine, Vaske) and another right on the border (Kehn), it’s rightfully so.
Charyl Stockwell isn’t talking state title yet, but it’s certainly expecting a big season.
Coach: Stephanie Oliver
Conference: KLAA Gold
Last Season: 21-6-1, 1st in KLAA West (10-0), Class A district champion
Top Returners: Celia Cullen (So.), Madi Opre (Sr.), Erin Brady (Sr.), Heather L’Esperance (Sr.), Theresa Choate (Sr.), Brittney Stahl (Sr.)
Outlook: The Bulldogs said goodbye to longtime volleyball coach Shelley Sims in the offseason. Sims, who led Brighton to six district championships over the past eight years, moved to Kentucky, leaving the program in the hands of Stephanie Oliver, who hopes to continue to keep up the lofty goals Sims established during her tenure. Fortunately, the ‘Dogs appear capable of doing so, equipped with a handful of talented players including Livingston Daily’s reigning co-Volleyball Player of the Year Celia Cullen and Madi Opre.
Coach Stephanie Oliver: “So far we have done some team camps already, and I expected them to be pretty well into the season already. I have seen some things we can improve on for sure, but I already see that we work hard. That’s what I expect out of them, hard work and high intensity. So far, I love the energy they’re bringing.”
Coach: Paula Gallentine
Last Season: 32-12-2
Top Returners: Paige Gallentine (So.), Theresa Kehn (Jr.), Jenna Vaske (Fr.), Lila Splavec (So.), Shantellie Hickinson (Jr.), Solana Hickinson (So.), Erica Vaske (Jr.)
Outlook: Led by a majority of underclassmen, Charyl Stockwell advanced to the district championship game last year, where it lost to fourth-ranked Lansing Christian in five sets. With the majority of the team returning — including 2016 stars Paige Gallentine and Theresa Kehn — along with the addition of highly-touted freshman Jenna Vaske, CSPA doesn’t envision its season ending so abruptly. Despite moving up to Class C, the team enters the year ranked No. 7 in the Michigan High School Volleyball Insider preseason poll, and has aspirations to finish much better than that. Given the talent — Gallentine, Vaske and Kehn are drawing a lot of interest from colleges — it’s easy to see why CSPA’s sights are set so high.
Coach Paula Gallentine: “We’re going to have an even better team this year than we did last year. … We’re super excited. The girls really work hard to love the process and love each other. Being in the gym and playing hard is something they love to do. … We also have talent. Those two things put together create a unique and powerful environment that we really feel great about.”
Coach: Michelle Hardenbrook
Conference: CAAC White
Last Season: 20-16-7, 2nd in CAAC White (8-2)
Top Returners: Autumn Barber (Sr.), Miranda Prochnow (Sr.), Erica Fox (Sr.), Michaela Walker (Sr.), Leah Ash (Jr.)
Outlook: The Gladiators lost quite a few key pieces to graduation after last year’s impressive season, in which they took second in the CAAC White. Most notably, the team will be without first team all-county selections Sara Domine and Paige Temple. However, coach Michelle Hardenbrook believes the 2017 squad has enough to make up for it, and will just need to find different ways to win.
Coach Michelle Hardenbrook: “We’re going to have stronger hitting and blocking this year, and our defense is still going to be strong, same with our serving. Where everyone is going to end up and how our lineup will look is still up in the air.”
Coach: Nicole Sidge
Conference: KLAA Gold
Last Season: 13-13, 2nd in KLAA West (7-3)
Top Returners: Megan Acs (Jr.), Sylvia L’Esperance (Sr.), Amanda Maga (Sr.)
Outlook: Much like its biggest local volleyball rival, Brighton, Hartland will also be breaking in a new coach this year. Nicole Sidge has taken the reins and is hoping to lead the Eagles to a successful year in her first season in charge.
Coach Nicole Sidge: “I am thrilled and honored to be taking on the new role as Hartland’s varsity volleyball coach. I’m looking forward to working with a talented group of athletes and training for our goals so that we can continue to have a competitive program. Being part of the new KLAA division will provide us with an opportunity to play against schools with notable volleyball programs, and we are all very excited to begin competing.”
Coach: Jayne Williams
Conference: KLAA Gold
Last Season: 15-15-6, 4th in KLAA West (6-5)
Top Returners: Ivy Earl (Sr.), Paige Fowler (Sr.), Justina Frantti (Sr.), Jessica Krakowiak (Sr.), Kara Sleeper (Sr.)
Outlook: Howell is coming off a decent year in which it placed third in the KLAA West. The KLAA Gold, however, is a different animal, which coach Jayne Williams and company are well aware of. With several returners and a flux of incoming talent, the Highlanders believe they have the ability to compete with teams like Brighton and reigning two-time state champion Novi, but know it will take their best on a nightly basis.
Coach Jayne Williams: “We have a lot of returners with some good experience carrying over from last year. In addition to our returners, we have strong players coming up from JV. We have the ability to reach a new mark for Howell volleyball, but will have to work very hard.
Coach: Susan Bostian
Conference: SEC White
Last Season: 5th in KLAA West (3-7)
Top Returners: Kate Kerns (Jr.), Lexi Sanchez (Sr.), Holly Sharples (Sr.)
Outlook: Talking to Pinckney coach Susan Boston, one thing becomes perfectly clear: The Pirates can’t wait to jump into action against their new conference foes. Pinckney elected to leave the KLAA after the 2016-17 school year, in search of a conference with teams more equal in terms of enrollment. It found that in the Southeastern Conference, where it will be matched up vs. teams such as Chelsea, Dexter, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Lincoln. The Pirates feel they have a chance to be much more competitive in their inaugural SEC season.
Coach Susan Bostian: “We’re excited about going into the new conference, because we’re hoping that it’s going to make it more fair for the players. It’s a conference that better suits our school enrollment, instead of going against the larger schools. … It’s new and exciting, and new and exciting is always fun. I’m enthusiastic, we have a great group of kids this year.”