OCS volleyball coach ends three-decade tenure with first title appearance

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published November 29, 2016

“It was a good ending for me. Would it have been awesome and incredible to win the title? Absolutely. But knowing the team worked so hard to get there, that’s all a coach can ask, and we did it with a fantastic group of girls.”

Priscilla Larned, Oakland Christian volleyball coach

On the south end of the Auburn Hills Oakland Christian gymnasium, dozens of framed pictures line the wall. Represented is every Michigan Independent Athletic Conference championship captured in school history, regardless of sport.

Priscilla Larned can be found in 13 plaques, each time smiling with a different roster of proud volleyball players. After helming the program for 32 seasons, the 2016 team photo will be added, a successful memento marking the end of her coaching career.

Following the announcement that she would retire at the campaign’s end, OCS accomplished more than another MIAC crown, compiling a 43-5-5 record and sending Larned out with its best postseason run ever. The Lancers did not drop a set until the quarterfinals, reaching the Class D final for the first time in their history.

OCS ultimately fell 3-1 on Nov. 19 to Plymouth Christian, a MIAC rival that split this year’s conference title with the Lancers.

“It was a good ending for me,” Larned said. “Would it have been awesome and incredible to win the title? Absolutely. But knowing the team worked so hard to get there, that’s all a coach can ask, and we did it with a fantastic group of girls.”

Larned originally planned to relinquish the reins a year prior, but a senior-laden squad convinced her to hold off retirement.

“I met with the seniors last spring,” Larned said. “I told them if I was going to come back, they all had to buy in, be a team and set some goals. That happened. Not one of them had a selfish attitude, and they told me they wanted to be in the final match. It was a great decision. Everybody was on the same page, and it made my job quite easy.”

Her upperclassmen made the choice worth it, reaching their goal of making the final, an emotional payoff for their leader.

“I was tearing up a lot after that win,” Larned said, referencing the Nov. 18 semifinal victory against Rogers City High. “We had never got past that point, and I thought back to so many of the girls that I coached before. It just meant so much.”

Larned can easily rattle off the names of former players, recalling entire teams, from the starters to those who rarely saw the court. She does struggle to recount the exact number of titles she oversaw — 14 conference, 20 district and 10 regional championships — having to count by hand those faded portraits in the gym.

This serves as a testament to her longevity, success and priorities.

“I love volleyball so much, especially because you need a good team to win it,” Larned said. “But I truly love just being with the kids. It’s really not wins and losses, but getting to watch them learn and grow up. It’s priceless.”

The seniors were extremely thankful for Larned being willing to return, enjoying what would collectively be everyone’s final year of high school volleyball.

“Playing for Mrs. Larned was a privilege,” said senior Beana Lucido. “She made us into a great team, technically her most successful. She cares about us so much and sees us as her daughters. Making it to the state finals was an unforgettable experience, a cherry on top of her amazing career.”

Larned wholeheartedly agrees that each and every one of her players is like one of her children. While she raised two sons, Larned never had a daughter, so the hundreds of girls that she coached over the years filled that gap.

“I’ve had kids go on to become teachers, engineers, doctors, you name it,” Larned said. “It is so rewarding to see them be successful and become good wives and moms. That is much bigger than any win.”

The veteran coach took her role of “mother” seriously. Every season, Larned grilled her players, finding out which boy asked them to homecoming. She then tracked down the suitor and gave him a stern warning.

“I always find out who is going with who to the dance,” Larned said. “I then tell the young man that you better treat them well or I will make sure you’re taken care of.”

Larned arrived at the school in 1972, teaching physical education, Bible and choir. After taking 10 years off to raise her children, she returned and began coaching in 1986. In addition to helming volleyball, Larned coached stints in basketball, softball and soccer.

“I’m truly blessed to be able to be in the lives of these kids,” Larned said. “The thing I wanted to instill in them is that no matter what you want to do, you must work hard, and then it can be done. If you’re not happy with your position, work harder. This has been a wonderful job.”