Q & A with varsity volleyball coach Jeff LaPratt

Can you tell us a little about the Subway Slam?

“The Subway Slam is a tournament hosted by Birch Run High School. We’ve went there and participated two years in a row. This year we went there and won the entire tournament. We had to beat a very good Detroit Country Day to win it. On top of that, in the best two out of three, they led 1-0 so we had to win two in a row for the championship. It was tough and gut wrenching at times, but the girls focused and won their first tournament of 2014 and the first varsity tournament for Utica in many years.”

What was the significance of winning the Subway Slam at the beginning of the season?

“The significance of winning this tournament was vindication. The volleyball program has really struggled since 2007. 2007 was the last time Utica volleyball was relevant. In 2007 the Utica volleyball team won the MAC title and also won districts. Since 2007 the volleyball program has had losing seasons. I took over in 2011 and three seniors, (Clare Pauck, Jazzy Castillo and Jordynn Lodge), were here as freshman. All three played here as freshman and really built the program back to respectability. In 2011 & 2012 we finished in last place. In 2013 we finished in third place & this year they’re competing for the MAC title. They felt vindicated because they’ve put in a lot of time and effort in turning this thing around. They’ve endured losing seasons, and jeers from opposing teams..Winning this tournament was a return on their investment and really set the tone for our underclassmen and the future of Utica volleyball.”

What have been your favorite moments of the season?

“My favorites moments of the season began in the summer because the vast majority of the volleyball players participated in off-season conditioning. They all worked hard preparing for the regular season. As a program we took two teams to Albion University for volleyball camp over the summer. It was a three-day event (overnight), and I really enjoyed watching the team (and parents) bond. When the season began in August we played three tournaments. In our first two tournaments we reached the semi-finals each time but were unable to win it. We defeated Eisenhower to get to the semi-finals in one tournament (MAC Kick-Off) which was really special because they had been undefeated the last two years and in this particular tournament they were the overall #1 seed. When we beat them our players and parents were overjoyed. Our third tournament was the Subway Slam and we found ourselves in the semi-finals yet again, only this time we found a way to push through and win which put us in the championship match whereas we defeated Detroit Country Day.”

Who is your strongest player(s) & why?

“To be honest, it’s hard to define our strongest player because each player has a different strength. We have our strongest hitter. We have our strongest passer, our strongest server, our strongest blocker…etc. Basically we are strongest as a unit, 12 girls moving forward as one cohesive unit. It doesn’t matter who gets the most playing time or the least playing time; if one of these girls was missing, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are today. All 12 have contributed and we need all 12 to continue winning.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

“Come out and watch us play, I really think you would enjoy it. The girls always mention they don’t see a lot of staff members at their games. The love their teachers and would love to see them there. As of Oct. 15, the girls are 20-10-1 and only six teams in all of Macomb County have won more games than Utica. We’re in second place overall and have a legitimate shot at winning our first MAC title since 2007. The girls are playing well and have really worked hard to get to this point. Come out and support them. Go U!”