By Tom Gilchrist
SEBEWAING — Sometimes, Erica Treiber makes a volleyball net look silly.
Ask Unionville-Sebewaing Area coach Teresa Rose the vertical leap of her 6-foot-1-inch senior middle hitter, and Rose laughs.
“She has a great vertical,” Rose said of Treiber, one of 10 finalists for Michigan’s “Miss Volleyball” award. The group also includes senior Laura Willson (see story that follows) of North Branch High School in northern Lapeer County.
“If you take a picture at the right time, she’s head and shoulders above the net,” Rose said of Treiber, who has a 25-inch vertical leap.
Treiber, daughter of Paul and Libby Treiber of Akron Township, has helped USA’s volleyball team soar as well. The Patriots are 38-7-2 and champion of the Greater Thumb Conference West Division. They lost in last year’s Class C quarterfinals to Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, but hope to travel far in the tournament again.
Treiber, who has verbally committed to play volleyball at the University of Tennessee, has compiled 609 kills, 217 blocks, 471 digs and 70 aces this season, according to statistics from Rose. She has helped carry a team that lost seven seniors to graduation.
“Our whole lineup from last year — besides Erica — graduated,” Rose said.
Treiber, who carries a 3.9 grade-point average and is among the top three students in her senior class, stepped up.
“We’ve been doing a lot better than what a lot of people expected after losing so many players, and to feel like the leader on the team now with all the young girls, it’s a good feeling,” Treiber said. “I like being the leader.”
Treiber serves USA High in various ways. She’s an All-State softball pitcher on teams that have reached the state Division 3 finals each of the past two seasons. She has helped tutor younger students. She also is one of the USA High students volunteering for the VIP program.
“On Wednesdays at lunch time, we’ll go over and have lunch and play on the playground with a first-grader, and kind of mentor them and be their buddy for the day,” Treiber said.
Treiber said the fact she is the youngest of four sisters — Jessica, Carly and Mackenzie played at USA before her — helped make her a better player.
“I think it did because, growing up, I went to volleyball game after volleyball game after volleyball game,” Treiber said. “I learned a lot from just seeing and watching them play.”
Her leaping ability, though, comes naturally, she said.
“Most of it’s just … probably through genetics. My dad’s 6-foot-6 so that’s where I get my height from,” Treiber said.
Treiber is USA High’s first finalist for the Miss Volleyball award, which will be announced later in the state tournament that started Monday.
“I didn’t expect it because I know a lot of the other (10 finalists) through club volleyball, and I played against them, and they’re amazing to me,” Treiber said. “So to be put in a category with them, I feel honored.”
Treiber’s oldest sister, Jessica, played volleyball at Saginaw Valley State University. Erica Treiber laughs when asked if she jumps higher than her sisters.
“They could jump, but I probably could outjump all of them,” she said.
Treiber said she verbally committed to play college volleyball at Tennessee after representatives of that university spotted her playing for a club team in a national tournament in Florida two years ago. They contacted her and set up a visit to the campus, and Treiber liked what she saw in Knoxville.
“They’re opening a brand-new volleyball facility, and there are new dorms, too,” Treiber said.
Treiber, a fan of country-music singer Luke Bryan as well as the Florida Georgia Line band, may hear more country songs competing in the Southeastern Conference for veteran Tennessee coach Rob Patrick.
While USA’s Treiber prepares to leave next year for the SEC, opposing Thumb-area coaches may be waiting to breathe a sigh of relief. Next season, they’ll no longer be tormented by Treibers on the volleyball court.
“Unfortunately, Erica’s the last one,” Rose said. “She’s the last of an era. Let’s put it that way.”
By Tom Gilchrist
NORTH BRANCH — Laura Willson grew up knowing all about the winners of Michigan’s “Miss Volleyball” award. Two of them, after all, grew up here.
“I remember being a little girl and thinking ‘It would be really cool to win that,’” said Willson, a senior and one of 10 statewide finalists for this year’s award.
“Now that I’m one of the finalists, it truly is an honor,” said Willson, the 6-foot-1-inch outside hitter for the Broncos, ranked second in Class B with an overall record of 53-7-1.
North Branch, a village of 1,033 people in northern Lapeer County, honored its first Miss Volleyball winner in 2008 when Olivia Kohler — now Olivia Boesch — won the award. Jordan Fish, daughter of Bronco coach Jim Fish, won the honor in 2010. Two other Broncos, Catherine Brusie and Fish’s daughter, Samantha Fish, have been finalists for the award — first presented in 2003.
“North Branch has been a great program for I don’t know how many years — ever since Coach Fish got here (in 2000),” said Willson, daughter of John and Shari Willson of Lapeer County’s Burlington Township.
“I actually started volleyball, I think, in third grade,” Willson said. “We started volleyball camps at that age, then we start (Amateur Athletic Union) volleyball in fifth and sixth grades, then you keep going and start school volleyball in seventh and eighth grades, but all of us on the team, really, have grown up in this program. We all have the same philosophy. We all have one goal, and that’s going to states. We all work for it, and that’s what makes us great.
“We all come together as a team. We love each other and we play together.”
North Branch, which won the state Class B title in 2009 and has been state runner-up on three other occasions, lost in the Class B quarterfinals last season to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, the team ranked ahead of it in the current Class B ratings. The Broncos have won 10 of the last 11 Tri-Valley Conference East Division titles, including this season’s crown.
The Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association plans to announce the winner of the Miss Volleyball award during the state tournament, which began this week. As of Monday morning, Willson had amassed 645 kills, 84 aces, 242 digs and 75 blocks, according to statistics from Fish.
When asked what factors — such as reach, strength, timing or leaping ability — help her make so many kills, Willson said “I think it’s everything. I really thank it all to the setter, Madee Minor, because she always puts the sets where I need them to make me look good.”
Such an answer reflects Willson’s personality, according to coach Fish.
“She’s classy and team-oriented, and selfless,” Fish said. “She’s very coachable and works extra hard. I’ve never had to talk to her about effort. The effort is always there.”
Willson shines on a team with no shortage of top players. Mady Ruhlman has verbally committed to play volleyball at the University of Memphis. Jazlyn Teichow and Abby Brusie have committed to Oakland Community College on volleyball scholarships.
Willson is entertaining scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools, but hasn’t committed to one yet. She carries a 3.45 grade-point average and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Willson’s status as a Miss Volleyball finalist has North Branch residents congratulating her, and congratulating 6-foot-1-inch sophomore teammate Olivia Fike, according to Willson.
“Sometimes we kind of look like each other, so a lot of people actually come up to her and congratulate her and she says ‘For what?’ And they’ll say ‘For being the finalist for Miss Volleyball,’” Willson said.
Volleyball, like the North Branch Bakery, are staples around town.
“I don’t want to say volleyball is the only sport at our school, but everyone loves to support our team,” Willson said. “For years — ever since I’ve been coming to the games — there have been such big crowds, and it’s awesome. Even the parents around town, and parents’ friends, come to watch us. I love the fan support.”
While Fish is proud of Willson’s volleyball career, he also congratulated Unionville-Sebewaing Area’s Erica Treiber on making the list of Miss Volleyball finalists.
“I’ve seen her play. She’s a very good player and a great person,” Fish said. “The Thumb should be proud to have two kids like that.”