Members of the Utica High volleyball team celebrate a point in a match against Grosse Pointe South Sept. 24 at home. At press time, the Chieftains were 19-6 overall and 3-1 in the Macomb Area Conference White Division.

Members of the Utica High volleyball team celebrate a point in a match against Grosse Pointe South Sept. 24 at home. At press time, the Chieftains were 19-6 overall and 3-1 in the Macomb Area Conference White Division.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Utica High volleyball boasts deep roster

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 30, 2019

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UTICA — At the end of last season, the Utica High volleyball team graduated five seniors, causing coach Jeff LaPratt to slip into a self-described “panic mode.”

Part of the panic came from a lack of height for this year’s squad. For as long as he could remember, the Chieftains had middle blockers that were 6 feet tall or more

After consulting some fellow trusted coaches, LaPratt came to realize that what he had on his new team made up for what he lost. The Chieftains may have to adjust their strategy, but they’re still capable of finding success.

“(The other coaches) all said, ‘You’ve got some (defensive specialists) that can flat out pass the volleyball. Just rely on them to play defense and run the offense.’ They were right, and my panic left,” LaPratt said.

According to the coach, there has not been a match yet this season where the absence of prominent blocking has been an overwhelming issue.

The seniors who graduated last year have been replaced by six seniors this year. Setter Frankie Rea, who is one of the captains on this year’s team, said she learned a lot about the inclusion of everyone from the previous class.

“I loved the seniors last year; they did a really good job,” Rea said. “They were super welcoming. They were easy to talk to and didn’t act like they were better than anyone.”

LaPratt noted how the leadership on the current team is so strong, he believes it’s the team’s greatest strength.

When it comes to specific standout players, the first to LaPratt’s mind was outside hitter Raeleen Sobetski. The senior has proven continuously that she can come up big in clutch moments.

“Raeleen can put them down with the best in the state,” the coach said. “(If) we need a point, we give it to her. She’s got a lot of colleges calling her name, and she’s just an outstanding hitter.”

The Chieftains’ underclassmen have been pulling their weight as well. Utica has three sophomores in Alyssa Pullizzi, Alexis Maxwell and Bri Rowoldt. The trio spent the entire summer running with the varsity program.

All the hard offseason work paid off, as all three sophomores have spots in the starting lineup. They’ve improved every night, and those around the program have taken notice.

“I think they’re doing really good,” Rea said. “They don’t stand out as young. We have a strong bond on and off the court, so I think our older girls welcomed them in, and I think they feel comfortable with us.”

One of the team goals that Utica has implemented is a first-place finish in the Macomb Area Conference White Division. At press time, the Chieftains were 3-1 in the division, one match back of Macomb L’Anse Creuse North and tied with Fraser High.

Utica has come close in years prior, but it hasn’t captured a division crown since 2007, when it went 12-0 in the MAC Blue.

LaPratt said that physically, his team could match up with anyone in the MAC Red, White and Blue. The mental side of things is what presents the greatest challenge.

So far this season, Utica has played Bloomfield Hills Marian, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Ann Arbor Skyline and Lake Orion High. Marian, Stoney and Skyline are all ranked in the top 10 in the state for Division 1 teams. Lake Orion is the defending state champion and a D-1 honorable mention.

“We can’t be afraid of the names we play,” LaPratt said. “They’re all great schools with great coaches, but we have great players too. We’ve just got to get over that mental hump and we’ll be good to go. And it’s coming.”

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