Published October 2, 2013
Dakota volleyball team riding undefeated streak
By Jason Carmel Davis firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Jason on Twitter.
MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The Macomb Dakota volleyball team hasn’t come down since winning the program’s first Michigan High School Athletic Association Class A state title in November 2012.
At press time, the Cougars had an unblemished 26-0 mark that includes a 3-0 record, which puts Dakota atop the Macomb Area Conference Red Division.
Dakota coach Tracie Ferguson, who guided the Cougars to that state title, said the team has been in some great matches to this point. She cited a 2-1 win over Birmingham Marian Sept. 17 as one of the matches her team was close to dropping. Dakota lost the first game and fell behind by eight points in the second game before pulling off a comeback win.
“We knew coming into the season, the target would be on our backs, so we decided to put them on the back of our shirts with the motto, ‘The Hunt Is On,’” Ferguson said. “Our motto serves a dual purpose. We know teams are after us and we embrace that, but more importantly, we are hunting something, as well.”
What they’re hunting is another state championship. Ferguson said that’s definitely a goal of theirs, but, she said, they’re focusing on fighting one match at a time.
The Dakota coach said her team is just like any other — going through each practice and match working on weaknesses to help the team prepare for the 2013 MHSAA state playoffs, which begin Nov. 4 with district play. Ferguson also said there is a lot that goes into winning a state title.
“Skill, talent, will, staying healthy and injury free, a little luck and matchups with other teams all come into play,” Ferguson said.
“We were very blessed to have experienced our first state title last year, but this is a new year and a new team. We will go as far as we can playing our game — getting better day in and day out.”
That roster includes eight seniors, who, Ferguson said, all have strong personalities and who all are extremely competitive. Those seniors include four returning starters in outside hitter Carli Snyder, senior setter Megan Manierski, senior right-side hitter Kaley Willaert and senior libero Natalie James.
Ferguson said the seniors are sometimes tough on the four juniors on the team at times, but only for the betterment of the team.
“That may not sound ideal from the outside, but we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ferguson said. “Once our juniors understood that nothing is personal and that things would only make them better and make us a stronger team, they were all for it.
“So now I have 12 girls with strong personalities who are extremely competitive. Together, they perform that way in practice every day, and believe it or not, they have so much fun doing it. Practices are very competitive. Most of the time, they feel like real matches — we’re only missing the (referees).”
Even though Dakota has yet to lose a match and has only dropped four games all season, Ferguson said the Cougars do have room to improve. She said the team is working on different play calls in order to hold the opposition’s blocks, which would leave each of Dakota’s hitters with a single block, as opposed to a double.
“That is a huge advantage for any team that can create those scenarios. Nothing’s more frustrating than not knowing who is going to get the ball, and then having to quickly react and hope to put up a double block without leaving a hole so your defense knows how to work around it,” Ferguson said.
The Dakota coach said her team is also working on serving tougher and moving the ball around in different zones in different ways in an attempt to catch teams off guard.
Defensively, Ferguson said, the Cougars are working on timing blocks better and covering hitters more consistently. She said Dakota players tend to jump early when going for blocks, which allows the opposing hitter to find an open spot on the court.
“In regards to covering,” Ferguson said, “I am trying to have the mindset that no matter which one of our hitters are going up to swing, we should always expect (the shot) to get blocked. Not because we want that to happen, but if we expect it, then we should be in one step ahead to make an easy recovery when it does happen.”
Ferguson said she’s aware of the “a team needs to lose a match” theory that several sports pundits subscribe to. She said she thinks it depends on the team, saying last year’s state champ lost five matches. She said she believes all of those setbacks came at the right time.
“The losses, I felt, helped us refocus and pointed out our flaws,” Ferguson said. “We needed to understand why they were happening and then recreate those scenarios in practice so we could eliminate them in future matches.
“This year, because the majority of the team is back, they understand now that the five losses we did incur last season could have been avoided, had we adapted quicker. So this year, I’m not sure that theory applies. They are adapting well and focusing on the little things they know are crucial to winning a match.”
The Cougars next hit the court for a matchup against MAC Red foe Port Huron Northern (9-8-4, 2-1 MAC Red at press time). Game time is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at Port Huron Northern.