Hawks Rising to the Challenge

Madison Candela rising to hit the ball
Madison Candela rising to hit the ball. Photos by Dion Norman, Create-A-Vision Photography

Last year was a challenging year for Henry Ford College’s women’s volleyball team.

To help during such a trying time, new head coach, Shannon Braun drew upon her extensive volleyball experience, including coaching at both the club and scholastic levels. She came to HFC following two seasons at Schoolcraft College.

“The atmosphere here, at Henry Ford, is fantastic, and I don’t think a lot of students realize that,” Coach Braun said. “I’ve seen the president of the college in the stands. That’s a big deal.” Coach Braun applauded the “night-and-day difference” between Henry Ford and previous schools she’s coached at, saying, “It’s a much better, healthier atmosphere.”

Although Coach Braun was eager to transition to Henry Ford, she said the transition was difficult. She had to learn the ins-and-outs of HFC, as well as the college’s COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols.

The team had to not only adjust to a new coach’s policies but also follow HFC’s COVID-19 policies as well as the policies of the colleges where they played.

Last season, pandemic precautions were still in full swing as summer 2020 drew to a close, delaying the start of the volleyball season. The team’s first match wasn’t until Feb.11, 2021, five and a half months after the traditional start date. Not only did the season start late, it was also condensed from four months to two months. That meant more games and fewer practices every week. “Some weeks we would have 3-4 games in one week and we wouldn’t be able to practice at all,” Coach Braun said.

There were COVID-19 outbreaks at multiple opponent schools, which would cancel and reschedule games at the last minute. As a transition year, the team faced additional challenges. In addition to coaching the Hawks, Coach Braun had a full-time job and coached another volleyball team. The team was introduced to three different assistant coaches. Flexibility was a necessary quality for all athletes and coaches.

Although the volleyball team had to overcome adversity, they still managed to succeed. “We almost doubled our wins from the previous season,” Coach Braun said. “That alone is amazing.”

“I think we fought through the struggles last season and did our best in the tough time to come together and improve,” defensive specialist Madison Somberg said.

The 2021 season is already underway, and Coach Braun is determined to keep improving the program. She hired two brand new assistant coaches, Dennis Belaire and Dayna Neef. “We have a much more stable staff this year, from different walks of life and different experiences, which is very beneficial,” she said. The three coaches will be working with seven returning players and six fresh faces on the team this year.

The Hawks have competed in a scrimmage against Sienna Heights and a tournament at Owens College. “I can already see improvements and we’re only a month into the season,” Coach Braun said. “I think if we continue to grow on these improvements, I can see Henry Ford getting our names back up on the banners in the gym. It might not be this season, but that’s what I want.”

“There are several decently skilled student athletes on this season’s team. I contend that there is a great deal of potential, we just have to be able to rise up to our level of potential more often,” Assistant Coach Belaire said.

The hope this season is that fans will be able to return to the stands soon. “I’m really hoping to see people in the stands.” Coach Braun said, “Spectators bring a game to life.”

Overall, Coach Braun believes that this year’s team will be a big surprise. She has received compliments from many opponents thus far, and is excited to play against the other teams in the conference. “I think we’re going to take everyone for a ride this season and it’s going to be good.”

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