HOLT, Mich.— Seven years ago, 11 girls shared a similar passion: volleyball. In fifth grade, these 11 girls were all teammates on the Attack club volleyball team.
Now as seniors, they were all teammates this past season on the varsity volleyball team at Holt high school.
In Coach Kellie Sweitzer’s eight years of heading Holt varsity volleyball, this past season brought the toughest decision she has made at tryouts.
She had difficulty deciding what was best for the program because of the connected group of players.
“To have 11 seniors on a team is clearly not ideal, or having 11 juniors on a team is not ideal,” Sweitzer said. “As a varsity coach, you have to take that into consideration. In my heart, I really knew and felt this was the best decision for these girls, because every single one of them loved it. If you devote yourself from fifth grade, year-round, you love it so much. I was not going to be that person to crush that love.”
The decision proved to be smart, as Holt volleyball had a record year. The Rams were 28-11-5, and were 10-0 in league play - only losing one set all year against conference rivals.
“We all play club, so we want to play fast and hard,” Sydney Stiles, a senior outside hitter, said. “When we play against these teams, they don’t return the ball to us.”
Chemistry was one of the reasons the Rams were so dominant this season. Juniors Payton Polakowski and Shelby Palmer, along with freshman Katelyn Whiteman, were the only players who did not play club volleyball with each other. Katelyn, Hannah’s younger sister, has known a majority of the team since second grade.
“Bringing the other three girls in was so easy for all of us,” Stiles said. “Everyone was open for the other girls to come and hang out.”
Sweitzer has 196 career wins and many significant milestones in her coaching career, but this year particularly stuck out to her.
“I’ve watched these girls for a long time, I would go to a couple of their club practices,” Sweitzer said. “I’ve had the excitement of girls playing together and meshing well. It wasn’t just the skills aspect and knowing they were advanced compared to a lot of people around us, but it was the fact that they all got along. There was more anticipation towards that than anything.”
In the post-season, the Rams won the Capital Area Activities Conference tournament and the district finals. The Rams beat Mason in the district finals, which was the seniors’ first victory against their rival in their high school varsity career.
“Me and Allie got pulled up our freshman year to play Mason for districts and lost in five sets,” Hannah Whiteman, a senior libero who led the league with 528 digs, said. “So it was nice to beat them at Mason.”
Their dream season ended in the regional semifinals, when Portage Central defeated the Rams 3-0. The Mustangs, ranked No. 2 in Michigan with a 28-5 record, posed a tough test.
“I feel like a lot of people went into the game already thinking we were gonna lose,” Whiteman said. “I think it was more an effort thing, not an actual athletic ability thing.”
With that loss, Stiles’ volleyball career is over. She will not play club this upcoming season. Whiteman is continuing her career, intending to attend Lansing Community College and try out for its volleyball team.
Stiles and Whiteman would not change one thing about their volleyball careers. However, senior middle hitter Allie Peterson wished she played a different position.
“I would make myself a setter if I could change one thing,” Peterson said. “I’m tall and I love setting. I feel like if I would have trained since I was younger, I would have been good.”
The Rams’ dominance will likely come to an end next year. Eleven out of 14 players are graduating and Sweitzer will not be coaching next season, she said she needed a break.
“Next year will be a really tough year,” Sweitzer said. “But every program goes through building years and they come and go.”