Female student-athletes propel Orchard Lake St. Mary’s into new era

Coach Molly Campbell (holding volleyball) gives last-minute instructions to her Orchard Lake St. Mary’s players. The school organized a freshman team this fall, which will progress to the junior varsity and varsity levels in future seasons as the school’s female enrollment grows. (Photos by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

After 135-year-old school added a girls division this fall, freshmen volleyball, cheer teams already making their marks

ORCHARD LAKE — Barely a month into the school year, if challenged, Sophie Borowski says she could identify every single member of her ninth-grade class. 

It doesn’t hurt that almost half of them are also her volleyball teammates.

For the first time in since it was founded in 1885, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep has admitted girls — and with it comes a new dimension for its athletic program. Drawing upon its initial class of 48 freshmen girls, the school has already formed volleyball and sideline cheer teams, and most of the female students are already taking part in one or the other.

Borowski, who attended Van Hoosen Middle School in her hometown of Rochester Hills, jumped at the opportunity to go to a new school and join its first-ever volleyball team.

For the first time in its 135-year history, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s has gone co-divisional. Its freshman volleyball team is among the first sports opportunities for the 48 girls enrolled at the school.

“I’m really into being a leader and being involved with starting new things, and I like the fact that it’s the first year of girls and that it’s going to go down in history,” she said. “They’ve been a school for like 150 years, and we get to start this? I just think that’s awesome.” 

Borowski’s sentiments were echoed by her teammate, Cameron Cole, who attended Oakland Christian Middle School in her hometown of Auburn Hills.

“They have a high school, but I kind of just wanted something bigger that would be private, and I’m Catholic, so I wanted to go back to a Catholic school,” she explained. “I went to elementary school at St. Joseph in Lake Orion, so I toured a bunch of schools, and I just liked the idea of St. Mary’s, being in the first class of girls and getting the chance to make history. I love their campus and just being able to walk around it.”

St. Mary’s athletic director George Porritt said before the incoming freshmen set foot on campus, school officials took a survey to find which sports interested the girls the most. From there, the school was able to hire coaches, order uniforms, and schedule practice facilities and competitions. 

Cameron Cole digs the ball in a Sept. 23 match. She has helped the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s freshman volleyball team win its first four matches, and will host their first-ever home game for a girls’ team on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Plans call for basketball and track to be offered in coming seasons, and joining co-op programs with other schools in ice hockey and skiing might also be feasible, Porritt said. Certain sports, such as soccer and softball, should be introduced in future years as more grades are added for the girls.

While the school had more girls apply for enrollment than they budgeted for (nearly 100, aiming for a class of 40), volleyball saw a similar trend as 23 girls tried out. The team kept 18, which is pretty large compared to a typical volleyball roster, yet coach Molly Campbell wanted to build the program, which will progress to the junior varsity and varsity levels as the current players get older. 

“It’s been fantastic to have that many girls come out for a first-year program,” Campbell said. “With any program, it takes time to build it. As we keep going, our record will show how hard we’re working and how good we’re getting. I think it will only help improve not only our own community, but outside of our team as well.”

The young Eaglets are off to a good start — they won their first four matches, defeating the St. Clair Shores Lake Shore and Royal Oak Shrine freshman teams, and the junior varsity squads at Catholic League member schools Riverview Gabriel Richard and Allen Park Cabrini.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s volleyball players practice their serves prior to their Sept. 23 match at Royal Oak Shrine. The Eaglets won both sets to remain undefeated this fall, in their first campaign as a new program.

“So far, it’s been great,” Cole said. “At the beginning there were a few rough patches, it was a little bit stressful, but I would not have expected to see how far we’ve come, the highlights we’ve gotten and how well we’ve played against other teams.” 

“We’ve definitely come together as a team 100 percent,” Borowski said. “At the beginning, I didn’t think we’d be anywhere near this good, but we’re undefeated right now, even though we’ve only played a few games. It’s been awesome.”

The level of success wasn’t much of a shock to Campbell, who was an All-State volleyball player at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep before playing collegiate softball at Central Michigan University. 

“About 80 percent of our team has prior experience,” Campbell said. “We had about eight or nine who have played competitively, they play travel. They came in with a lot of experience, and we have a handful that have never played before who came out this year. They’re enjoyable to coach, and we’re just having a really fun time.” 

Because of concerns over COVID-19, the Eaglets aren’t participating in weekend tournaments this fall and won’t be in Catholic League post-season play, yet the team still has some concrete goals. 

“I think we’re just here to make a statement,” Campbell said, “to put our name on the map and show that not only St. Mary’s is a powerhouse for men, it’s a powerhouse for women.”