Eighth-year Utica High coach Jeffrey LaPratt huddles with his team during a Sept. 20 match against Port Huron High. The Chieftains won the match in straight sets 25-12, 25-20 and 25-21.

Eighth-year Utica High coach Jeffrey LaPratt huddles with his team during a Sept. 20 match against Port Huron High. The Chieftains won the match in straight sets 25-12, 25-20 and 25-21.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Utica High volleyball looking to capture MAC Blue crown

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 24, 2018

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UTICA — Utica High volleyball has not captured the Macomb Area Conference Blue Division title since 2008, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been close. The Chieftains have finished second in the conference in two of the last three years and are hoping 2018 is the year that they are able to get over the hump.

Through 25 games this season, Utica was 12-11-2 overall and 3-0 in conference play. In tournament play, it has gone up against some of the toughest teams in the state, with the likes of Brighton High, Lake Orion High, Macomb Dakota, Utica Eisenhower and Bloomfield Hills High on the other side of the net.

Utica coach Jeff LaPratt believes playing in these tough matches will more than adequately prepare his team down the stretch. He also said he’s learned a lot about his team from the way they’ve played in these matches.

“They are a hardworking team,” LaPratt said. “We’ve played some of the best teams in the state so far this year. The kids don’t back down. They understand who we’re playing against, and they work that much harder to win.”

LaPratt said that some of his team’s biggest strengths include leadership, work ethic and camaraderie. His players echoed that statement.

“I think our biggest strengths are our chemistry and our hitting,” senior Mone Knowles said. “I feel like some teams that don’t have good chemistry, they don’t play very well. But since we have good chemistry on and off the court, it makes a lot of things easier.”

Knowles, who tied a state record last season with 16 blocks in one match, is one of six seniors in the program. Many of the players on this year’s team have spent the majority of their high school careers on varsity.

Those players include Abby Rissman, who LaPratt said will make some noise defensively this season; setter Jaclyn Duff, who will be entering her third year on varsity; and Cayley Ebeling, who LaPratt said is having her best season as a Chieftain.

With all the strengths come some weaknesses. LaPratt and his team know they have to be critical of themselves if they are going to win the division.

One of the biggest things in terms of execution on the court is serve-receive.

“If you can’t receive the serve and run your offense, you’ll lose,” LaPratt said.

Among the other improvements that LaPratt would like to see is attacking the opponent with their serve. He wants the Chieftains to use their serve as a weapon. Another thing he would like to see is a diversified offense.

“I think we dwell on our mistakes too much sometimes, and we need to stay positive,” Ebeling said. “If we just stay positive, I think our goals will be achievable.”

The goal this season for Utica is obvious: The team wants to win the MAC Blue. In order to get there, it’s going to have to beat Fraser High, a team that has finished one spot ahead of the Chieftains every year since coming down from the MAC White.

“We don’t want to be co-MAC champs. We want to be MAC champs,” Knowles said.

LaPratt said his team is taking a “one-step-at-a-time” mentality this season. He used the example of climbing a ladder. In this case, there are 10 rungs on the ladder, with 10 being the number of wins needed to secure the top spot in the division. The Chieftains are three rungs up the ladder with seven more to go.

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