Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Kate Stration prepares to spike the ball in a match against Rochester Adams Sept. 19 on the road. At press time, the Cougars were 15-4 overall and ranked as the No. 6 team in the state in Division 1.

Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Kate Stration prepares to spike the ball in a match against Rochester Adams Sept. 19 on the road. At press time, the Cougars were 15-4 overall and ranked as the No. 6 team in the state in Division 1.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Stoney Creek volleyball navigating season with revamped roster

By: Jacob Herbert | Rochester Post | Published September 24, 2019

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ROCHESTER HILLS — When last season came to an end for the Rochester Hills Stoney Creek volleyball team, the Cougars won the Oakland Activities Association Red Division outright for the first time in school history and a Division 1 district tournament.

The season ended Nov. 8 when Stoney Creek fell 3-0 to Lake Orion High in a regional final. The Dragons went on to win a state title.

With the conclusion of that final match, the high school careers of Sara Thompson, Nina Billotto and Stephanie Smith also came to a close. All three players had three or more years of varsity experience.

Coach Ross Talbott’s team has retooled and revamped its roster this season with the departure of five total seniors, and the new-look Cougars are off to a solid start.

At press time, Stoney Creek was 15-4 overall and ranked No. 6 in the state in D-1, according to the latest rankings from the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. All four losses came when the team was not playing at full strength.

Still, the Cougars were able to take first place in the Novi Volleyball Tournament, beating Saline High and Novi High. Both schools were D-1 honorable mentions in the rankings. Stoney Creek also reached the finals of the Dakota Invitational, but fell to No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Marian in the final.

“We’ve been playing a lot of strong teams out there,” Talbott said. “We’ve had some pretty close sets and we’ve been able to come out on top, so I’m pretty impressed already.”

Leading the charge are captains Kate Stration, Katie Yatooma and Ashley Gajdzik. Much like their predecessors, all three players have three or more years of varsity experience.

Talbott said the team expects a lot out of its captains, but that they have been performing well so far.

Though she doesn’t see the floor too often, the off-the-court leadership from senior Alyssa Boothe has been a staple in the team’s success.

Outside of leadership roles, the team has been able to rely heavily on the play of a few standout performers. Junior Ella Markevics is taking over the setter role from Smith. Talbott said Markevics could have been a starter on most varsity teams last season.

With the departure of Thompson, Halle Liefers has taken over the libero role, and Gajdzik took over for Billotto in the middle.

“She’s more of an all-around player, but we need her in the middle this year,” Talbott said of Gajdzik. “She’s doing real well for us.”

With so many changes for a team, there’s bound to be a transition period where the team needs time to figure out who works best at what positions. Talbott said he and his coaching staff are still working through some adjustments on the defensive side of the ball, which is where he said improvements need to be made.

“We need to really pay attention and block a lot more balls,” the coach said. “That will make our defense a lot easier.”

Talbott also said movement on the court is a high priority when it comes to improvement.

Offensively, Talbott likes how the team is performing. He praised the team’s offensive firepower and ability to score points with ease.

Expectations for the Cougars this year are the same as any other. Continuing to improve upon last year’s season is at the top of the list.

“You always want to try to set your team up to beat last year’s season,” Talbott said. “Obviously, our goal again is to win districts. Our other goal is to get to a regional final. We host regionals this year, so we want to be playing in our gym during that time.”

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