RESILIENT ROCKS: Salem volleyball seniors’ perseverance rewarded

 RESILIENT ROCKS: Salem volleyball seniors’ perseverance rewarded

Pictured are members of Salem’s 2023 volleyball team: (front row from left) Presley Escote, Delaney Fillman, Alayna Kuhn, Sarah Nelson, Mia Nunez, Ciara Farmer,(back row from left) Sofia Mefford, Ashriya Sunkara, CJ Kiffner, Elise Hudak, Mackenzie Clark, Elizabeth Nordstrom and Tamari Wheatley.

To say the beginning of current Salem senior volleyball players Sarah Nelson, Elise Hudak and Alayna Kuhn’s high school careers was less-than-idyllic would be a massive understatement.

The trio were incoming freshmen in the summer of 2020 — just a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up and altering the routines of everyday life.

“We had our tryouts outdoors on sand courts on Hines Drive, we had to wear masks, which made it difficult to communicate with teammates on the court,” Hudak recounted. “Volleyball is a sport that requires talking to your teammates a lot, and when we couldn’t hear each other (through the masks) it became a guessing game, kind of a free-for-all.

“But we stuck with it and we’re having fun now.”

Fast forward to a Salem practice earlier this week when smiles were abundant, masks were non-existent, and Nelson, Hudak and Kuhn (the team’s only seniors) were excelling at their respective positions — and serving as role models for their freshmen and sophomore teammates.

Great role models

“Those three were so tough through that challenging time,” said Salem Head Coach Nancy Blaylock, whose first year as the Rocks’ head coach was 2020.

Pictured are Salem senior volleyball players Alayna Kuhn Elise Hudak and Sarah Nelson
Pictured are Salem senior volleyball players Alayna Kuhn Elise Hudak and Sarah Nelson

“When we announced our captains last week, Sarah wasn’t at practice because she had just gotten her wisdom teeth out. She is one of our captains, so we face-timed with her and I got a little choked up.

“I’m going to miss them tremendously once this season is over because they joined the program my first year and have helped grow the program so much.”

The seniors have engineered several incredible memories for Salem’s volleyball program, which is heading in the same trajectory as a perfect set.

Despite playing in the ultra-competitive KLAA West Division — which includes heralded programs like Northville (the 2022 Division 1 state runners-up), Brighton and Novi — Salem has held its own. And with three ninth-graders and a sophomore on this season’s roster, the future is bright.

Unforgettable upset

One of the highlights from the 2022 season, Nelson and Kuhn shared, was winning a nail-biting five-set match at Howell — on the Highlanders’ Senior Night no less.

Junior Ciara Farmer elevates for a kill
Junior Ciara Farmer elevates for a kill

“They were really good and schools usually plan their Senior Night against teams they’re probably expecting to beat,” Nelson said. “We play so well that night — everything was clicking — and we managed to pull it off.”

“Winning in five sets like we did felt so good,” Kuhn added. “It showed what we are capable of.”

One of Hudak’s memorable matches from 2022 was a thrilling five-setter against cross-campus rival Canton.

“The last set was so close — I don’t think either team had more than a two-point lead,” she said. “The crowd was going crazy, every point was intense. Even though we lost, it was a lot of fun.”

Motivating motto

The Rocks don’t have to look far to find the team’s unofficial motto for the upcoming season: GET BETTER EVERY DAY is scripted in bold white letters along the top of the gym’s wall.

“I think our strength this year will be our depth; we’re not just starter strong,” Blaylock said. “We have a great mix of experience on this team — including three very talented freshmen — and the girls are bonding well.

“When our kids are playing well, we can compete with anybody in our league. The question is, can we compete with the Northvilles and Brightons for an entire match? We’ll see, but I have a good feeling about this team.”

Important roles for role models

Hudak is a big-time outside hitter, Nelson is a solid libero and Kuhn is a ball-smashing outside hitter despite her modest 5-foot-5 height.

“I like that this team has girls from all grades and ages — I’m 17 and I’m playing with 13-year-olds,” said Hudak. “Sarah, Alayna and I remember what it was like to be a freshman playing high school volleyball, so I think we can help them because we’ve been there.”

Presley Escote delivers a perfect set
Presley Escote delivers a perfect set

In addition to the sensational seniors, Blaylock praised junior middle hitter Ashriya Sunkara, junior setter Presley Escote and freshman Elizabeth Nordstrom, who can play pretty much anywhere on the court.

“We have 20 freshmen in the program, which is amazing and speaks a lot for the future of the program,” Blaylock said.

Just as importantly, the Rocks have three resilient seniors, who have sparkled even when their smiling were hidden behind pale-blue masks.

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or



Ed Wright

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