MAC volleyball coaches discuss league’s standing, playoff possibilities

By: Jason Carmel Davis | C&G Newspapers | Published August 31, 2017

 Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse’s Lauren Bayless (15) rises up to block a shot during an Aug. 18 match.

Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse’s Lauren Bayless (15) rises up to block a shot during an Aug. 18 match.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MACOMB COUNTY — “I think the Macomb Area Conference has grown into one of the top conferences in the state during my 10 years at (Sterling Heights Stevenson).”

Those are the sentiments of Titans volleyball coach Paul Drdul, who last fall guided his team to a Class A district title and a spot in a regional final.

Teams in the MAC have had success in recent years. Macomb Dakota won a Class A state title in 2012; Fraser High went back to back in 2003 and 2004; Marysville High won eight straight Class B titles from 1997 to 2004, and another in 2006; and Romeo High won a Class A state title in 2014 before finishing runner-up in 2015.

Further back, Warren Cousino made three straight Class A title game appearances from 1977 to 1979, winning championships in 1977 and 1979. The Patriots’ 1977 title came in a win over Mount Clemens High. Stevenson finished runner-up to Livonia Ladywood in 1988, while Warren Woods (Class B) finished as state runner-up in 1981.

“I think the conference is pretty good,” Drdul said.

Last season was also fruitful for the conference. In total, four MAC teams (Utica Eisenhower, Grosse Pointe South, St. Clair Shores South Lake and Stevenson) won district titles, with three advancing to the regional championship match. South Lake was the only one to claim a regional title.

South Lake coach Chris Blair said the MAC is very competitive relative to other conferences in the state. He called Eisenhower the team to watch this season and said New Baltimore Anchor Bay, Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, Dakota, Stevenson and Romeo routinely field good squads.

“Team continuity and the willingness to work together as a unit, along with great passing and defense, will take a team very far in the postseason,” Blair said.

“Most of the season is spent trying different rotations and positions, and working on your team’s best formula so that when it comes to (the postseason), you as a coach have your lineup in such a balance where all the athletes are in sync with one another and know exactly what each teammate’s role on the team is,” he continued.

Grosse Pointe South coach Kevin Nugent said he sees Dakota, Romeo and Marysville as strong teams entering the season, along with Grosse Pointe North.

Nugent commended the conference for its recent postseason success. He recognizes, though, that several factors play a role in any potential playoff run.

“It depends on how the districts line up and where (the Michigan High School Athletic Association) puts you (for regionals),” Nugent said. “Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw at regionals, and sometimes it’s a little bit more (wide open).”

The coaches believe there are a number of players in the MAC who could lead their teams on deep playoff runs.

Both Blair and Nugent cited Anchor Bay’s Maria Mallon, who Nugent called an outstanding player. L’Anse Creuse North’s Tori Conklin, Fraser’s Ivy Boggia and Grosse Pointe South’s Chandler Duff, who has committed to play at the University of Oregon, were also names mentioned.

“I’m sure each team has an athlete who is a game-changer or who is able to affect the game in a positive way for their team,” Blair said.

The goals for each MAC team are the same: improve as the season goes along, compete for a division championship and make a strong showing in the postseason. The journey will be just as much fun as reaching those goals for league coaches.

The volleyball state finals are set for Nov. 16-18 in Battle Creek.

“In general, I think you’re going to have a lot of the same names at the top of the list,” Nugent said, “but I think this year may have a little more parity than in other years.”

“I love and look forward to MAC divisional play and the playoffs. It’s the best time of the season,” Drdul said.

MAC action picks up across all the divisions Sept. 12. For more volleyball, visit candgnews.com.

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