Hazel Park junior hitter Cheyanne Ferris has been dominating this year for the Vikings volleyball team, which is off to its best start in years. (Photo by Tom Watts).
Senior Courtney Coombs, left, and 5-foot-11 senior Mackenzie McClellan are heavy hitters for the surprising Hazel Park varsity volleyball team – off to a 7-6-1 start as they enter the Oakland Activities Blue Division schedule. (Photo by Tom Watts).
HAZEL PARK – Building a high school volleyball program takes time and commitment, and changing a losing culture back to winning is the goal at Hazel Park.
“We’ve been building for this,” Hazel Park coach Sue Stuef said Monday as the Vikings (7-6-1 overall) prepared for Oakland Activities Association Blue Division matches against Southfield on Tuesday and Ferndale on Thursday.
“We knew this year was going to be the year because we are very experienced.”
With nine seniors and eight returners, Hazel Park has earned its dramatic turnabout this season led by the leadership of co-captains Stephanie Toma and Tiffany Dessart, and the dominance of Mackenzie McClellan and Cheyenne Ferris.
Toma, a senior setter, has spearheaded what Stuef has been yearning for in her three years as varsity coach.
“She’s just a great leader,” Stuef said of Toma, noting she was honorable mention selection in the OAA last season. “She is great with setting mechanically – an upper level floor leader.”
Outstanding hitters at the net for the Vikings include 6-foot junior Cheyanne Ferris and 5-foot-11 senior Mackenzie McClellan – natural athletes.
“They both have been dominating for us,” Stuef said. “My hitters are very good.”
Adding to the standout performances at outside hitters are Dessart and senior Courtney Coombs.
“Tiffany and Courtney have been excellent hitters,” Stuef said, noting Dessart was also an honorable mention selection last year in the OAA.
“I think we’re good this year because we play with good team work,” Dessart noted. “We’re talking out there; working together; and everyone looks forward to coming to practice.”
Senior Micah Unternahrer has been playing the opposite side setter who “has to assume different roles on the team,” Stuef said.
And libero Erin Shelton, a senior, started to get playing time last season and has come on strong this year
“We only won two games in the league last year and really we’ve only won two games each year for the last 10 years,” Stuef said. “That’s one thing we want to improve on.”
The Vikings are 1-0 in the OAA Blue with a goal of finishing over .500, but there are other goals as well.
“We’re looking at the districts big time,” Stuef said. “They really want to win it. Last year we lost in the district finals to Fitzgerald, and we’ve already beaten them this year.”
Toma said the ultimate team goal is to win districts.
“We work on it every day at practice,” Toma said at Monday’s practice. “We learn the fundamentals and learn how to communicate better.”
Stuef is building a volleyball program and she has two freshmen and two sophomores playing varsity, but she is also a realist and knows the program needs to win now.
“We won’t have the seniors next year like we do now,” she said. “But we’re also building for next year – bringing younger players up.”
Toma said despite a senior-dominated team, the girls on varsity all work as one.
“The players who came up from JV are just as important,” said Toma, who also can appreciate her coach since the two have known each other since junior high.
“She’s been coaching me for six seasons,” Toma said of Stuef. “I can read her mind when she’s not happy.”
“Coach – she works us hard,” Dessart added.
Whether it’s establishing communication skills on the court in practice or having a goal to win districts or being one of Hazel Park’s best volleyball teams in recent memory, the Vikings are raising eyebrows as they build a volleyball program.
“We want to set an example for future players,” Dessart concluded.
And with time the essence they want to win now.