NEW LOTHROP — Last year, New Lothrop was one of the youngest varsity volleyball teams in the state with no seniors on the roster.

The Hornets are still young in 2021 but return seven players off a 16-18 unit that reached the Division 3 district finals and placed second in the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference.

New Lothrop head coach Rondalee Beardslee said her team’s experience will pay dividends in 2021.

“Obviously we return the same squad from last year — we didn’t have any seniors last year so we have the same team coming back,” Beardslee said. “The girls have big goals for the season. They want a district title first and foremost. We haven’t had that since 2016. These girls think that’s something they can work towards and I think that’s something they can achieve too. They all have the experience and all the time they have put in. And after that, they really want to go after that regional title — something I think is doable. It’s going to take work to get there but something I think is a potential and a possibility for us.”

For New Lothrop it all begins with junior outside hitter Carley Martin. A three-year starter and two-year captain, she was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after leading the team in kills, aces and serve receive. Martin was named an Argus-Press All-Area first-teamer in 2020.

Martin had 209 kills last season with 337 digs and 55 aces.

“I’ve improved a lot on my passing and my back row,” Martin said when asked about her game since last year. “And just being smart about the ball — putting it in play rather than try to kill it.”

Martin said that the Hornets do have high aspirations.

“We’re hoping to place first in our league,” Martin said. “We’ve been working really hard this summer. We’ve been practicing hard and making new plays. Mt. Morris, we’re worried about them a little bit.”

Another player to watch for the Hornets is sophomore Marissa Rombach, a middle hitter who registered 163 kills, 44 blocks and 24 aces.

“We plan to finish first in the league this year,” Rombach said. “We’re very excited because we have basically our whole team back except for just a few. And I think we have made some big improvements … Our biggest strength is just probably our ability to pass and find the open spot.”

Another player back is junior libero Madison Wendling, a two-year varsity starter, who ranked second in kills and first in blocks a year ago.

Also back are junior setter Taylor Moore, junior right-side hitter Avery Krupp, junior defensive specialist/outside hitter Grace Osborn and sophomore middle blocker Kara Wendling.

The team has brought up sophomore outside hitter Alexis Birchmeier in 2021.

2021 VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW

Byron

Coach: Janice McDowell

Key returners: Jaden Zakoor, Sr., L; and Kylee Wolanin, Sr., DS/S.

Key newcomers: Haylee Schott, So, MH; Violet Schmidt, So, S; Brooklyn Zakoor, Jr., OH.

Outlook: Byron finished 16-7-2 a year ago and 6-1 in the MMAC under Autumn McGuire but have a new head coach in Janice McDowell and a new-look squad. “We are a young team with only a couple of returning players,” McDowell said. “Our goal this season is to play together and grow as a team.”

Corunna

Coach: Kari Carnell

Key returners: Neele’ge’ Sims, Jr.; Josalyn Stratton, Sr.; Mary Yerian, Sr.; Jenna Bauman, Jr.; Kira Patrick, Jr.; Gracie Crowe, Jr.

Key newcomers: Maddie Wright, Emma Holmes.

Outlook: Corunna returns a good nucleus from last season’s 15-7 unit including All-Region player Neele’ge’ Sims, a junior, and Josalyn Stratton, a senior, both big hitters. The Cavaliers have opened the season with a 7-4-3 record. “I look forward to this season and competing with a completely new team,” said Corunna coach Kari Carnell, who has posted a career coaching record of 290-143-34. “We will face challenges and we will work through them together and gain new knowledge and experience.”

Chesaning

Coach: Ron Poyer

Key returners: Kylie Morse, Sr., MH; Kylie Florian, Jr., L; Hailey Rolfe, Jr., S/OH.

Kew newcomers: Ava Devereaux, So., S/MLH/OH; Hannah Cooper, Jr., DS/RH; Autumn Mahoney, Jr., MH; Bryn Mahhoney, Jr, DS/RH.

Outlook: “Our goals for this year are to work hard and be competitive in conference play and to be in a position to challenge in district play,” Poyer said.

Durand

Coach: Cassandra Maynard

Key returners: Jessica Winslow, Sr.; Jade Garske, Sr.; Alicia Wright, Sr.; Avery Gilson, Jr.

Key newcomers: Raegan Taylor, So.; Sydney Leydig, Jr.

Outlook: Durand returns four key players for 2021. Durand hopes to improve on last season’s district finish in which the Railroaders fell in three sets to Flint Powers in the district quarterfinals.

Laingsburg

Coach: J.J. Strieff

Key returners: Lorna Strieff, Sr., OH; Bella Strieff, So., OH; Mackenzie Brundage, Sr., S; Ellie Baynes, Jr., MH; Brynn Wilson, So., S.

Key newcomers: Erica Wade, Sr., MH; Grace Borgman, Sr., DS; Brooke Putnam, Sr., L; Haley Bila, Sr, OH.

Outlook: Laingsburg finished fourth in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference a season ago but Strieff and his team hope to content for the league title this time around. “We are excited about the upcoming season,” Strieff said. “We return five starters and believe we can contend for the CMAC league title.”

Morrice

Coach: Brandy Gutting

Key returners: Emma Valentine, OH; Abi Beem, S; Kaylee McGowan, MH; Payton Gutting, RS; Kenzie Doerner, L.

Key newcomer: Aubrey Rogers, OH.

Outlook: Morrice is the defending GAC Blue champion and registered an 11-4 overall record in 2020. Morrice graduated seven players from last year’s unit but will be keyed by returners Valentine, at outside hitter, and Beem, at setter. “They will control the dynamic of the team,” said head coach Brandy Gutting. Valentine is a defending state high jump champion and is a force at the net. “Payton Gutting and Kenzie Doerner are new to their positions but have adjusted well,” said the coach. “Kaylee (McGowan) is a returning middle and has dominated the net so far this year. She will be a standout. Our key upcoming player is Aubrey Rogers.”

New Lothrop

Coach: Rondalee Beardslee

Key returners: Carley Martin, Jr., OH; Marissa Rombach, So., MB; Madison Wendling, Jr., L; Taylor Moore, Jr. S; Avery Krupp, Jr., RS; Grace Osborn, Jr., DS/OH; Kara Wendling, So., MB.

Key newcomer: Alexis Birchmeier, So., OH.

Outlook: New Lothrop brings back virtually its entire line-up from last year’s 16-18 unit which advanced to the district championship match. Beardslee said the team is hoping to challenge for an MMAC and district championship with seven returners including Martin, a three-year varsity starter and team MVP who led the team in kills and aces.

Owosso

Coach: Stephen Fitzpatrick

Key returners: Kendall Ihm, Jr., OH/S; Brielle Sovis, Jr., L; Peyton Spicer, So., OH; Rees Thayer, So./S.

Outlook: Owosso, coming off a sixth-place finish in the Flint Metro League Stars Division, hopes to improve in 2021. The team will be led by junior team captains Kendall Ihm and Brielle Sovis. Ihm, a setter/outside hitter, is in her third season of varsity volleyball and was named to the All-Flint Metro League second team two straight years. Sovis, a returning starting libero, is in her third season as well and was an All-League honorable mention player last season. Peyton Spicer, a sophomore outside hitter, is another team captain who has made significant strides to bookend Ihm. Rees Thayer returns at setter and is a sophomore.

Perry

Coach: Sarah Coning

Key returners: Lorraine Tharnish, Sr., S; Paige Bigelow, Sr., OH; Bailey Flick, Sr., S; Kallei Brown, Sr., OH.

Outlook: Bigelow, a senior outside hitter, returns and will be a player to watch out for. She tagged 133 kills and serving 91 percent for the Ramblers in 2020. Bigelow was a first-team All-GLAC performer.

Ovid-Elsie

Coach: Kortney Miller

Key returners: Kalista Bancroft, Sr., OH; Braylon Byrnes, Sr., S.

Outlook: Ovid-Elsie has opened the season with a 2-2 record and will be led by Bancroft and Byrnes in 2021.

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