Sophomore Alex Lupo looks to play the ball during South’s matchup against Grosse Pointe North.

Sophomore Alex Lupo looks to play the ball during South’s matchup against Grosse Pointe North.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

South volleyball preparing for ‘bigger moments’ as state tournament nears

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 10, 2023

 Senior libero Eleni Melhem makes a play on the ball.

Senior libero Eleni Melhem makes a play on the ball.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Grosse Pointe South has found itself stuck in a bit of a routine the past decade.

When districts approach, South (15-8-3) is one of the hottest teams in the state, holding 10 consecutive district titles.

Regionals is a different story — South has yet to make it past regionals since 2014.

South fell victim to the same trap last year when it lost only one set up until its regional finals loss to Berkley High School.

So what do you do when you’re stuck in a cycle? You change the routine up to start the year, and South went above and beyond in the creativity department.

For the first time, South took a team trip up north alongside Battle Creek Lakeview’s volleyball team to Leelanau County for three days of beach volleyball, kayak rides, hikes, workouts and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Lakeview has been taking the trip for over a decade now, and South coach Janeil DiVita was able to have her team tag along this year.

It was a change of pace for a group of players who wouldn’t describe themselves as outdoorsy people, especially when their tents flooded from having holes in them.

Overcoming the mental struggle of the trip, which received mixed reviews from the team due to the tent debacle, South was able to birth a team motto for the 2023 season.

“We have a little motto every year, and this year it’s ‘pitching our success,’ because we went camping at the beginning of the year,” senior outside hitter Lilah Supino said. “Really, what we’ve been focusing on is mental toughness, working hard every day, and supporting your teammates even if you’re having a rough day. That’s our mentality.”

While their offseason took a different approach, South’s players made sure they challenged themselves early this season with some of the best teams in Division 1, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association..

South took on the East vs. West Challenge early in the year that featured Division 1 top 10 teams in Jenison (No. 9), Hudsonville (No. 2), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (No. 5) and Division 2 powerhouse Marysville, who is currently ranked No. 4.

The wins and losses category might not have favored South early on, but the experience and knowledge the team gained is expected to pay off when the state tournament kicks off.

“With the schedule we put together this year, we wanted to see top teams in the state so we know what that looks like as a program and as a team,” DiVita said.

DiVita said that playing top teams shows South where it needs to improve, and it also helps build confidence.

“I think there’s a tendency to play a little scared in those bigger moments, so being able to play under some of that pressure gives them the confidence that we can do that and be that team,” DiVita said.

South is led by all-state honorable mention outside hitter Gabby DiVita, who had a phenomenal freshman year last season. Now in her sophomore year, DiVita, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall, has put together another all-state worthy campaign this season.

Gabby DiVita, who is the daughter of South coach Janeil DiVita, was able to watch her sister, Jada, who now plays collegiate volleyball at Lipscomb University, dominate the competition at South to the tune of four all-region honors and an all-state honor in 2021, and Gabby has picked up right where Jada left off.

“Gabby is just one of those kids that was in the gym at a young age with Jada playing, and she’s just an attention to detail kind of a kid, and is very driven,” Janeil DiVita said. “That’s definitely the reason she plays, and she’s played in a lot of high-pressure situations. When you talk about club, she won an AAU championship and played up an age group.”

Alongside DiVita, senior team captains Eleni Melhem (libero), Ally Edwards (middle hitter), and Supino lead the veteran group.

Melhem has come into her own this year after being more of a role player last season, and she’s brought the energy on the court each night.

“She went from a non-starter last year, and she just continued to get better with her reps and her skills, and then came in this year not quite where she left off last year, but has continued to improve again,” Janeil DiVita said. “She’s gritty and she’s our little battery and spark plug, and she’s continued to work on her skill and her game.”

The three seniors have been a breath of fresh air for a South team that features five sophomores, but make no mistake about it, the young guns can play.

Sophomores Alex Lupo (middle hitter), Sydney Hoffman (middle hitter), Morgan Duff (setter) and Ava Fedirko (defensive specialist) have been consistent contributors for South this year alongside juniors Elle Davey (setter), Olivia McMillin (defensive specialist), Olivia Kowal (outside hitter) and Catherine Pattie (right side hitter).

They’re a young group, but Gabby DiVita said everyone plays with the same passion and the same goal in mind.

“I think we all want to win, and I think that’s something this program has lacked previously,” DiVita said. “I just think everyone is super gritty when we get to practice. We all have fun together, and I think it truly helps us throughout the season.”

With just over two weeks left in the season, South currently holds first place in the Macomb Area Conference White with a perfect 7-0 record.

There’s still a long way to go before districts, but South is eager to show that it’s a different team with a different mindset this season, and the players are prepared for whoever stands in their way.

“We’re not going to be surprised when we see this talent and see the skills these kinds of teams have,” Melhem said.