OCC volleyball looks to build on past success

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published September 11, 2013

 Oakland Community College volleyball coach Jeffrey Stark looks on as Ellesa Smith, left, and Rebekah Brandel take part in a recent practice. Stark would like to pass lessons along to his players that can be applied beyond just the volleyball court.

Oakland Community College volleyball coach Jeffrey Stark looks on as Ellesa Smith, left, and Rebekah Brandel take part in a recent practice. Stark would like to pass lessons along to his players that can be applied beyond just the volleyball court.

Photo by Donna Agusti

As recently as two years ago, Oakland Community College’s volleyball team made it all the way to the National Junior College Athletic Association national finals, with the Raiders finishing as the NJCAA runner-up.

Bryan Lindstrom coached OCC to its national finals appearance, and first-year coach Jeffrey Stark credits him with putting the volleyball program “back on the map.” And while some first-year coaches may go in with a plan of attempting to build a program, Starks’ main responsibility may be to maintain a standard of success that has already been set.

And while Stark may respect the kind of success the program has had in the past, what has already been done is not something he prefers to focus on. The same could be said for what lies ahead.

Instead, Stark prefers that his players focus on the very next task at hand. It is for that reason that you’re not likely to hear Stark talk about any goals for his team that extend beyond the next play, whether it be a practice or a match.

It is a coaching philosophy that made sense to Stark after reading about Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and it is one he is implementing while at the helm at OCC.

“My only concern is what’s next,” he said. “It always comes down to what’s next. What is your next task? You got so much on your plate, sometimes you get lost. By being able to focus on what we got next, it really allows us to fine tune what we’re trying to do and achieve it at a higher rate of success. I don’t really look past the next practice or contest.”

And while not thinking about what’s already happened or looking too far ahead is something that may take some getting used to, if the reaction of sophomore Ellesa Smith is any indication, Starks’ coaching philosophy seems to have gone over well in the Raiders’ locker room.

“We’ve really grabbed onto it,” she said. “Really focusing on process. It’s really working for us.”

Freshman Peyton Lang also thinks the philosophy has been working well and expressed optimism about OCC’s 2013 campaign.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “We’re a really good team. We come out, we compete, and we’re a family. So it’s really fun.”

While Stark did spend approximately 15 years with Milford’s volleyball program, given that he is still the new guy at OCC, having a solid group of sophomores on the roster can only help. Spencer Stokes (Mount Morris High School), Smith (Lake Fenton), Sherrell Atkins (Mount Morris) and Kaitlin Mault (H.H. Dow) represent the Raiders’ sophomore class, and Stark referred to them as a “blessing.”

Mault is OCC’s captain, and Stark has been pleased with the leadership that she has displayed.

“We really hold her accountable for the team’s unity — making sure we’re all on the same page,” he said. “She’s been very good at helping the sophomores and freshmen come together. She’s done just a spectacular job of doing that. When one of their own is willing to step up and work to unify that team, that really helps you as a coach.”

Aside from coaching players for success at OCC, Stark also indicated that he would like to help put players in position to continue their career at a four-year school, if they so choose. And aside from success on the court, Stark would also like his players to walk away from their time at OCC with lessons that they can apply long after their volleyball careers come to a close.

“My goal is to help my kids become not just the best volleyball players, but the best person they can be,” he said. “I don’t look at it as a one-year commitment. It’s like, ‘OK, you’re stuck with me for as long as you’re willing to listen to me — whatever I can do to help you succeed. Whether that’s as a volleyball player, a student, a person (or) down the road as a mother, as a wife.'

“I still have kids I coached at Milford 12 years ago call me once a month just to talk. I think that’s the true blessing of being a coach. You really get to invest into the lives of these great young athletes who are really striving to be the best they can be.”

While Stark may not want to think too far ahead, his time at OCC has left him with an optimistic outlook about the future of both the volleyball program and athletics at the school, in general.

“I think our athletic director, Laurie Huber, has worked well with our college hierarchies in trying to really build a brand and some culture at OCC for athletics,” he said. “I know the staff she’s hired are some of the finest around, and I know they’re bringing in some high quality student-athletes that are able to compete on the court (and) in the classroom. I don’t think just OCC volleyball’s in a good way; I think OCC athletics is in a very good way right now.”

Brittany Guldan (Walled Lake Central), Miranda Fuerst (Unionville-Sebewaing), Rebekah Brandel (home school), Mikaela Beck (Walled Lake Central), Gabrielle Kalugar (Lake Orion), Rebecca Alexander (Monroe), Lang (Walled Lake Northern) and Maley Brown (home school) represent OCC’s freshmen class.

The Raiders are next scheduled to be in action at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 in a home match against St. Clair CC.