Girls Varsity Volleyball
Laura Papa loves volleyball.
She’s the varsity coach at Armada High School.
Laura Papa loves building relationships.
Not just as a coach but also a special education teacher at L’Anse Creuse Middle School North.
"Building relationships with kids, especially those kids who have a hard time making those relationships, is special. You know you are having a positive impact,” said Papa.
An example of that positive impact:
Her students at the middle school know she is a volleyball coach. One student in particular, an eighth grader, embraced that knowledge. Still, he had a tendency to get frustrated and when that happened, that could turn into aggression.
On this particular day, the class was in the gym playing volleyball. He discovered his own penchant for the game.
“Nobody could return his serve,” said Papa. “When he got home, he told his mom and brothers how well he did. It was a great day for him. It was very rewarding.”
The rewards will be a little bit unique this year for her Armada volleyball team. While the MHSAA has indicated there will be a season, no gyms are open.
Not until the coronavirus rates of infection allow it.
Hence, just like swimming, while the blueprint is there, the reality is not. You cannot swim without pools and you cannot compete in volleyball without an open gym.
That did not stop Papa and other coaches from taking their high school teams into the great outdoors to start practice Wednesday, the MHSAA-mandated opening day.
Papa and her players gathered behind school. A volleyball net was the only indication of their sport of choice. They conditioned. They served. They did some drills. They looked longingly at yet another school where the gym remains closed.
Among those who will lead the Tigers are returning players Livia DeBacker, a junior outside hitter; Anika Prisby, a junior middle hitter; senior setter Emma Stark and Karsysn Fistler, a senior who is a six-rotation player.
“Livia is really consistent. She worked hard in the offseason to improve her game,” said Papa. “She has really stepped it up and we are looking forward to her being in a dominant position.
“Anika was our middle last year. She’s 6-4 and really blossomed during districts and regionals last year. She had 17 kills in a district game against Yale. She put up a huge block that helped us beat Almont. As a coach, you don’t often get that combination of size and athleticism. She is always in the gym working to make herself better.”
“Emma really stepped up to be a leader last season. As we developed as a team, the younger setters were looking to her. She’s a two-year setter for us. If you ask me, a setter is the most important player on the team. They are the Tom Brady of volleyball. They set the tone. They have the ability to lift the entire team,” continued Papa.
“Karsyn is a six-rotation player. She is coming off a knee injury suffered playing basketball. Karsyn has worked hard at rehabilitation and we are excited to see her come back, even if it is not at the very start of the season. She will be an important member of our team,” said Papa.
The Tigers prevailed at their own district last year. Armada swept Yale in the semifinals and defeated Almont in four sets for the championship. In regional play, they played perennial power North Branch tough, finally falling in four.
“We had a slow start last year, but once we got rolling we got better and better,” said Papa. “The girls are hungry to get better. We beat Almont for the first time in five years to win the districts. While we got nervous and could not beat North Branch in regionals, we took a set and the girls were happy. We had lost to North Branch 25-3, 25-6 earlier. Being able to compete with them was a huge motivator for us.”
Both Armada and North Branch compete in the Blue Water Area Conference.
So let the practice season begin! Please, please do not step in any gopher holes or trip on any rocks.