It was late August at a tournament at Portage Central when Troy Athens volleyball coach Christine Stanichuk saw something from her team that she hadn’t seen from the previous squads she coached.
On that one day at the tournament, the Red Hawks recorded more blocks than they did all of last season.
“For the first time at Athens, we have height, and that’s a beautiful thing,” Stanichuk said during practice Sept. 10. “That’s one thing we’ve always lacked. All these other Division 1 teams really just outpowered us around the net. I’m really excited this year; blocking and attacking at the net is going to be our strong point.”
The Red Hawks have five players listed at 5 foot 10 or taller out of the 12 on the roster. Overall, Athens returns seven players from last year, including four seniors Hailey Patrick, Haley Zemmer, Mary Grace Stark and Lauren Atwell.
Patrick said that along with the team’s size, its chemistry is also something that should make it compete for the Oakland Activities Association White Division title.
“At the tournament in Portage, it showed that we all came together and are ready for the season to start,” she said. “I think it’s better than ever.”
“We are all competitive and all want it,” Zemmer added.
Stanichuk said the strength of this team’s bond is something she doesn’t see every year.
“They do team sessions outside of practice, and it shows,” she said. “They all have each other’s backs. It’s not about, ‘me, me, me.’ It’s an ‘us’ type of feel with this steam.”
Stanichuk said the goals are to play well enough in the White to be moved into the OAA Red and also win a district crown, something the program hasn’t done since 2005. Last season, Athens lost to Troy High in a district final.
“I feel we can do it,” the coach said. “We want to work hard, and hopefully, Athens comes out on top.”
“We just need to focus, not get too cocky and take it match by match,” she said.
Catch the Red Hawks against Ferndale High at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at home.