Utica Ford II volleyball coach talks run through MAC Blue

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 18, 2019

 Utica Ford II’s Trinity O’Brien spikes the ball during a match earlier this season. The Falcons are in line for their first division title since 2016.

Utica Ford II’s Trinity O’Brien spikes the ball during a match earlier this season. The Falcons are in line for their first division title since 2016.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

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STERLING HEIGHTS — With only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, Utica Ford II volleyball coach Randy Schantz and his players have set a clear goal.

“Our first priority this season is winning (the Macomb Area Conference Blue Division) championship, and that would mean a lot to this group,” said Schantz, who is in his first year leading the team. “It would be validating and a step in the right direction.”

Schantz has the team in line for its first division championship since 2016. At press time, the Falcons were 6-1 in the MAC Blue, giving the team a two-match lead on Warren Woods Tower and Port Huron High. One win in its last three matches would give Ford at least a share of the title; two wins would give the Falcons the title outright.

The team finished third in the MAC White in 2017 and 2018.

A big reason for the Falcons’ success so far this season is the return of six starters from last season, Schantz said.

“They brought a lot of experience with them (into this season),” Schantz said. “Every player put in a lot of practice over the spring and summer between camps, scrimmages and workouts.

“In-season practices have been key as well. We have had a full team at every practice, and most of the girls have not missed a practice or a game. I try to run a very dynamic practice and change it up to keep it interesting. Three-hour practices were not uncommon at the start of the season. (The players) have worked hard, and they are seeing the benefits.”

Schantz runs a complicated offense that the players have picked up very well, he said, adding that the team has worked in multiple defensive strategies to better defend different teams.

Leading the way for Ford has been Brianna Bayer and Antonia Nunnery.

“When both of them are feeling it, they’re tough to stop,” Schantz said. “We didn’t have (Bayer) for one tournament and we felt her absence. (Nunnery) has started every match and has had some electric performances.”

Libero Kelly Bartlett has made great contributions too, Schantz said. The Falcons coach said that Bartlett has been strong on the defensive end, setting the tone, while leading the team in digs, points on serve and passing efficiency.

Schantz is hopeful the team’s strong play carries over into the postseason. The Falcons will host a Division 1 district tournament and open the postseason with a semifinal match against Sterling Heights Stevenson at 7 p.m. Nov. 6. The other half of the bracket features Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Utica High and Macomb Dakota. The district final is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 8.

If the Falcons are to make a run, the team has to get healthy, Schantz said. Starting setter Alexis Strickland has missed time with an injury, but Gianna Sager has done a solid job filling in, according to the coach.

“I don’t want myself or the team getting ahead of ourselves,” Schantz said. “We want to keep getting stronger every day up until our last match. I want (the players) making the same strides down the stretch that they made at the beginning of the season.”

Ford’s next match is against St. Clair Shores Lakeview at 6 p.m. Oct. 29 on the road.

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