BY DAN STICKRADT
LAKE ORION — Behind a grand season, Lake Orion’s volleyball team advanced farther in 2011 than any other school from the Oakland Activities Association since the league’s inception in 1994-95.
The Dragons were Class A state runner-up, falling to Rockford 3-0 in the title match. Part of the Dragons’ run included a regional semifinals win over state powerhouse Birmingham Marian and a victory over arch-rival Clarkston in the state semifinals.
The Dragons opened up training camp Wednesday — fall sports across Michigan began this past week — and like most teams around the state, are in the midst of finalizing their final rosters. Lake Orion will open Aug. 18 at the Portage Central Tournament, which features several schools that were ranked in Class A and Class B last season.
Despite graduating eight of 16 players, Lake Orion should again be one of state’s best. The Dragons thrived at various team camps this summer against some of the state’s better programs.
“I still think we can be very good. We had a lot of good players kind of waiting in the wings last season, but didn’t get as much time on the court because we had all of those seniors,” said Ross Talbott, Lake Orion’s new head coach. “We have some really good kids coming up.”
Talbott was an assistant last season. With former coach Bob Howey receiving a promotion at the firm where he works this summer and announced that he could not return for a sixth season, Talbott jumped at the chance to take over.
“It was a great opportunity,” said Talbott. “It was an unfortunate situation with Bob picking up more responsibility at his job. But I was here last season, so the girls know who I am.”
Senior middle hitter Sophie Murdock is the top returning player, while senior DS Gabby Kalugar, senior OH Melanie Heath, senior MB Emily Kipp, senior DS Rachel Livingway, senior setters Sabrina Cottrell and Rebecca Sylvain and senior OH Kiana Brown all gain varsity time last season and are the most experienced Dragons back in uniform.
Lake Orion put together its toughest schedule last season, entering the Dragons in many high profile tournaments against the heavy hitters of all four classes. It all paid off in the long run, as Lake Orion reached the Final Four for the first time since 1988 and reached the title game for the first time. The Dragons finished 54-13-3, won only their fourth district crown in 25 years, and captured only its second regional title in school history.
“We like to think that we can be one of the better teams again,” offered Talbott. “We’ll play in some really good tournaments again this year. When we open at the Portage Central tournament, we’ll see a lot of great programs there. Marian will be there, (Temperance) Bedford is there, (Farmington Hills) Mercy, will be there, Portage Central is always good, (Richland) Gull Lake, Plainwell …there’s a bunch of really good teams going to that tournament from all over the state. We’ll know right away where we stand.”
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