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Clarkston freshmen team reaches new heights

Volleyball   | Tom Markowski

Clarkston freshmen team reaches new heights

Clarkston – One can point to Daneen Kincaid’s freshmen program at Clarkston as the roots to what transpired on Friday in the Division 1 volleyball district final held at Lake Orion.

And if one is looking to the future for the varsity program one can only harbor a feel-good sensation.

Clarkston defeated Lake Orion, 3-2, and the Wolves have advanced to this week’s regional against Macomb Dakota at New Baltimore Anchor Bay.

Kincaid just completed her seventh season as the freshmen coach and few, if any, freshmen teams experienced the success her team had this past season.

Clarkston went 53-0 in its matches including a remarkable record of 116-0 in games. The Wolves defeated their opponents by an average score of 25-11.

A close call came in late October when Clarkston travelled to Warren to compete in a tournament with such strong programs as Romeo and Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. In the first game against St. Mary C.C., Clarkston trailed 23-20.

“Instead of getting nervous, they became more resolved,” Kincaid said.

Clarkston won, 26-24. 

“We’ve had years where we’ve had 100 victories and we’ve won 78 percent of our matches in the previous six years,” Kincaid said. “But this season has been something special.

“I’m not one of those coaches who believe in lopsided wins. When the scores would get out of hand I would challenge my girls to hit different spots on the court. We carry 14 players, which is a lot. But I don’t mind keeping (that many). You don’t know how their bodies will grow at that age.

“This season is a reflection of the team. We don’t have just six or seven good players.”

Kincaid became a coach almost by accident. She didn’t play competitively in high school or college but she did play volleyball at the recreational level. Her interest in the sport greatly increased thanks to her daughters, Stephanie and Tiffany, who did play at Clarkston.

Kincaid remembers having fun playing volleyball and that attitude is what she expects from her players. Sure, as a coach, you want your players to progress, to reach their potential. But Kincaid doesn’t want to place added pressure and a 13- or 14-year-old girl who already has the added pressure of entering high school.

“I’m not teaching them how to play varsity volleyball,” she said. “I’m teaching them how to enjoy volleyball.”

The pressure to make the junior varsity or varsity teams will come later. Some might not be good enough to play on varsity as a junior or senior. Time will tell. Until then Kincaid does her best to make the one season the players spend with her a positive experience.

She points to two areas, specifically, on why her teams have enjoyed such success. First she said her players, more and more, are beginning to play the sport at an earlier age and as the popularity of club volleyball increased so has their level of play. And, secondly, the players at Clarkston, generally, grew up together playing the sport and they’ve become familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“You look at my strongest players and, when they’re on the bench they can’t sit still,” Kincaid said. “They’re jumping up and down cheering on their teammates. They truly support one another.”

Among the top players on her team this past season, and ones to look for in the future, are Jordan Newblatt, Hannah Kady and Abbey Tolmie.

What has helped Kincaid, and made her job easier, is her relationship with the varsity coach, Kelly Avenall-Pinner. Avenall-Pinner keeps tabs of the freshmen but isn’t one to meddle.

“It’s a real good relationship,” Kincaid said. “It helps we’re in different buildings. Clarkston’s junior high, the eighth and ninth graders, practice in a different building than do the junior varsity and varsity. (Avenall-Pinner) will help me out when I ask but she lets me run my program.”

The next step for the varsity team is to reach a state final. They lost in a regional final two years ago and are still searching for their first state-final appearance.