Anyone who watched the Midland volleyball team play during the 2021 campaign quickly noticed a team who not only seemed to enjoy what they were doing on the court, no matter the situation, but also seemed to take a genuine interest in each other.
For Eagle volleyball coach Gennifer Schroeder, that made the campaign a success, no matter the final record.
“We had several strengths this season, but one the girls really capitalized on was team chemistry,” said Schroeder, as her team finished with a 4-31 overall record and were 1-5 in Tri-Rivers Conference East play, good enough for sixth-place in the seven-team division.
“We started with 25 girls in the program with only six upperclassmen. Trying to find cohesion in such a young group can be tough, but we had quite a few sophomores and juniors who stepped up this year in a leadership capacity and really included the freshman class. Making the transition from junior high to high school athletics can be really tough for some because the expectations are a lot higher. I was really impressed with how committed the freshman class was able to be and I’m looking forward to what the eighth-grade class has to offer next year as incoming freshmen.”
Not only were the Eagles able to maintain a positive presence on the court each and every night, but Schroeder was also impressed at their ability to adapt not only during the season, but during in-match situations as well.
“The strength of the 2021 season would be that we had so many girls wanting to play that we were able to play girls in multiple positions and so many stepped up into different roles throughout the season,” Schroeder said. “We were also able to stay consistent to our overall goal of progress, too. We saw a few of the teams at different points in the season and we were able to stay competitive with them, and it really showed during pool play at the conference tournament.
“We saw Easton Valley relatively early in the season at homer and we were taken back by their level of competition. At the conference tournament we were able to play three sets with them and came so close to an upset. The girls’ progress this year will be what we’re able to set a foundation upon for the program to start working towards more success.”
Helping the program lay that foundation were seniors Allison Paulsen, Bailie Uppena and Elizabeth Soper.
Paulsen, a star athlete in each and every sport she participates in, led the Eagles hammering down 91 kills on 271 attacks for another team-best .170 hitting efficiency. Paulsen was also second on the team coming up with 107 digs and her serving skill was also a plus connecting at a 97-percent clip with 27 aces (both team-best numbers).
“Alli is a natural leader on and off the court,” Schroeder said. “She’s always willing to go the extra mile to make the team better. She’s also one of the most coachable people I’ve ever met. During any point in a game or practice, if I wanted to make an adjustment or told her that a spot on the court was open, she would make that change or hit that spot.
“Sometimes this would be in-between points on the court and that adjustment would help swing the momentum our way. Alli’s leadership is something that will be missed and whoever steps into that leadership role next year will have big shoes to fill.”
Soper proved to be another one of Schroeder’s versatile standouts playing all over the court this past season.
“After being out last year due to injury, Elizabeth came into this season with really high expectations for herself and the team,” Schroeder said. “She held herself to a higher standard and wanted to get better. Elizabeth will be missed on the court for her vocalness and goofiness. She was able to bring a smile to others when tensions ran high.”
Uppena added more offensive power for the Midland team drilling 68 kills (second on the team).
“Bailie was a quiet force to be reckoned with,” Schroeder said. “As a senior, Bailie had behind the scenes leadership skills. Whether she was on the court or on the bench, she had the team’s success in mind. There would be times at practice I would see her trying to teach the younger girls footwork for their serves.
“I know that Bailie was also one that had high expectations for herself and if she struggled, she would be one who would seek out help from others. Bailie will be missed for her constant commitment to becoming better.”
A smaller senior class allowed underclassmen the opportunity at an abundance of playing time, the juniors, sophomores and freshmen within the program more than took advantage.
Junior Jaden Gatts, an outstanding leaper, led the team in blocks swatting back 34 of them this past season while sophomore Anna Bartels was second with 28 blocks and third in kills with 65. Sophomore Gracie Harrington patrolled the back row leading the team with her 114 digs and was second in the program with 19 services aces. Junior Gracie Franzen took over the main setting duties and dished out a team-high 198 assists.
Juniors Isabelle Ricketts and Emma Tracy as well as freshman Alexis Zaruba also return with experience from the 2021 journey.
“With the core group of girls we have coming back next year, and the group of eighth graders we have coming up, I think we have a really good base to remain competitive and make progress for the program,” Schroeder said. “It may take a few years, but good things take time. With the work the girls are doing in the off-season, and what we’re already planning for next year, I’m really excited for 2022.”
The Midland program gained even more leverage with solid campaigns from the JV and fresh/soph levels as well this past fall.
“The JV team was our most diverse group with a variety of freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” said Coach Mackenzie Lasack. “We had a lot of girls who grew as players and individuals. We did a lot of rearranging and had girls playing in spots they were not always comfortable with, but they persevered and made great strides as a team.
“The fresh/soph group was our biggest group this year. We had 11 girls on this team and they were all freshmen. Even though we had a losing record, they improved immensely. This group focused a lot on improving the fundamentals and increasing their volleyball IQ. Fresh/soph is always a fun group to work with and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for this group.”