Leland’s volleyball team won its seventh consecutive Class D district championship last year and reached the regional semifinals before losing to Rogers City, finishing with a 40-10-3 record overall.
The Comets have won 17 district titles in the last 18 years. The last time Leland lost in the districts was eight years ago, in 2010.
Leland is two years removed from playing in the Final Four, and have won three state championships. Two of them were under current head coach Laurie Glass, in 2002 and 2008.
It’s an interesting mix on the roster this season for the Comets, with seven seniors giving them leadership on and off the court along with one junior and a bevy of young sophomores learning the ropes.
Probably the most notable returnee is senior Ella Siddall, a three-time first team all-stater at setter.
She threw a scare in the Comets and coach Glass when she went down in the second match of the first tournament in which Leland competed and did not return that day. Fortunately, she was available for the next tournament.
“We do well when she’s in the mix,” Glass said. “She runs a great program. She’ll be one of those kids that will play after high school.”
Outside hitter senior Allie Martin leads the Comets offensively. Glass says the Comets rely on Martin’s leadership skills.
Hitting on the right side is senior Hannah Elwell and she’s producing some big numbers for the Comets in the early season in terms of efficiency Glass says.
“She’s really finding herself,” Glass said. “She’s a lefty on the right side, which is a great combination.”
The Comets have had to overcome some early adversity, though, with two injuries to a pair of senior middle hitters, while another was recently cleared to practice in August after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Still another senior middle was lost to a shoulder tear.
But, Glass says everyone has found a way to lead for the Comets, which has allowed them to get off to an early 11-6-1 start despite a challenging early schedule against some pretty tough competition. The Comets have played only one Class D school so far.
Leland went 3-1 on the day in a big Class A tournament at Temperance Bedford.
A pair of young middles who have stepped up to fill the void for the Comets are Gillian Grobbel, the lone junior on the roster who Glass said is starting to really develop into a force offensively and led the team in aces last weekend, and sophomore Sarah Elwell beside her.
Elwell is the tallest player on the Comets’ roster at 5-foot-11. It’s her first year on the varsity and Grobbel’s second.
On the outside is sophomore Tatum Kareck. Sharing time with her on occasion is sophomore Olivia Lowe. Anchoring the Comets in the back row is starting libero, and another sophomore, Mia Osorio running Leland’s defense.
“We’re running a 5-1 offense, but we want to be a quick offense,” Glass says. “We can run quick in front of or behind the setter. Our passing sometimes is suspect, so we have a bit of trouble running it at times.
“Due to injuries and other circumstances (the younger players) have had to pick up the slack and junior varsity coach Travis Baker and my assistant coaches did a phenominal job getting them ready to come in and take on a load. I think their preparation with (Baker) on the JV has allowed them to be successful.”
Glass sees Kingsley as the team to beat in the Northwest Conference, but she feels the Comets held their own and then some against several ranked teams in their early season competition.
Leland expects to give Kingsley a run for the league title again this season, and then take aim at a spot in the Final Four.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.