Members of the Utica Eisenhower volleyball team huddle around coach Caitlin LaPratt Oct. 22 in a match against Macomb Dakota on the road. The Eagles beat the Cougars in straight sets.

Members of the Utica Eisenhower volleyball team huddle around coach Caitlin LaPratt Oct. 22 in a match against Macomb Dakota on the road. The Eagles beat the Cougars in straight sets.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Eisenhower volleyball gearing up for postseason

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 28, 2019


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — From the beginning of the season until now, the Utica Eisenhower girls volleyball team has been seeing steady improvements.

At press time, the Eagles were 24-11-2 overall and 8-2-1 in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division, one spot back of division leader New Baltimore Anchor Bay.

“We kind of had a little bit of a slow start, and it was about finding the right pieces,” Ike coach Caitlin LaPratt said. “I think slowly but surely we’ve made some great improvements since the beginning of the season.”

This season’s growing pains were due in part to the departures of Marissa Durand and Sam Palazzolo. Durand, now playing volleyball at Cleveland State University, and Palazzolo, who is playing at Wayne State University, led Eisenhower to two league titles and two district titles in their time with the team.

The departing veterans have been replaced by junior Abbey Biermann, a libero, and junior Angelena Tripi, a setter. LaPratt admitted that there is a lot of pressure in those positions, as they are relied on in a lot of important situations.

Those players’ consistency and the coach’s ability to trust them have improved over the course of the season.

Another reason for the Eagles’ improvement has been the work of their three leading scorers. Sydney Palazzolo is a junior outside hitter who is committed to High Point University; senior Meghan Dombrowski is another hitter who is committed to the University of West Virginia; and junior Kira Buza, a middle hitter committed to Oakland University, rounds out the trio.

“Those three lead the way,” LaPratt said. “They’re great players and great leaders. I think we’re going to be relying on them a lot in the future and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”

For Eisenhower, the Division 1 playoffs are set to start at 6 p.m. Nov. 4 against Rochester Hills Stoney Creek at district host Rochester High. The Cougars are ranked No. 8 in the latest coaches poll and knocked Ike out of the playoffs last year in the district final.

LaPratt said the Eagles have been making tweaks all season long and moving players around in the lineup to ensure the team is performing to the best of its ability. With just days left in the regular season, continuing to improve is of the utmost importance.

“Playing with confidence is a big thing we need to work on, especially going into districts,” LaPratt said. “I feel like a lot of times when the games get close, we do some silly things and panic a little bit. Putting teams away when we have a lead is something we’re really trying to work on.”

In terms of specifics, Palazzolo said the team is working on serve-receive and better communication among back row players.

“We are very confident,” Palazzolo said. “We’re just working on the basics and trying to tweak the little things because in the pressured moments, all we have to focus on is the basics so we don’t get stressed out.”

LaPratt said she expects tight sets when the Eagles take on Stoney Creek. The two programs are no strangers to one another, having met in the district round in each of the last four seasons.

LaPratt likes her team’s chances to win a district title if they are able to get past a tough Stoney Creek team.

“We would match up with a strong regional, but it’s nothing that these girls haven’t experienced before,” the coach said. “We’ve had a very competitive schedule just for situations like this. They’ve seen the best teams out there, so this should just be a point in the season where we can overcome and finish those tight sets with big teams.”