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Anne Leach of Vandercook Lake High School takes a cut during a softball game in 2019.  Photo by Jeff Steers, JTV Sports

By Jeff Steers
JTV Sports

Like most high school seniors, Vandercook Lake High School student Kaely Howard was ready for school to be over.

But not like this – senioritis on steroids.

When school was closed for the remainder of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic a couple of weeks ago, and the Michigan High School Athletic Association followed suit Howard knew her sporting days at VCL were over.

Howard and Anne Leach – both four-year starters for the Jayhawks’ varsity softball squad – were left to say “what if.” Longtime Coach Tim Hoffman said Howard, Leach, and third-year varsity player Olivia Applegate were scheduled to be tri-captains for the Jayhawks this season.

“I was pretty upset to be honest (when the season ended before it started),” Howard said. “I wanted the (senior) year to be over, but not like this.”

Vandercook Lake surprised a lot of teams by winning the Cascades Conference in softball a year ago. It was the first conference title in softball since 2004 for the Jayhawks as they posted a 12-2 conference record.

“We definitely wanted to win the conference again and get further in the (MHSAA) tournament),” Howard said. “We lost in the first round of districts.”

Howard played second base for the Jayhawks in 2019, set the plate for the offense as the leadoff hitter, stole more than 30 bases, and planned to play centerfield this spring. She hit .432 for the Jayhawks in 2019.

But the energetic VCL athlete may be remembered for her prowess on the volleyball court. She set the school record with 1,749 career digs and broke her own school record with 774 digs in a season.

Howard signed to play volleyball at Jackson College this fall filling the role as a libero.

“As the libero you have to have the mentality to hold your platform, stay low, and be ready,” Howard said of the player that has to be in position to return hard spikes from the opposition.

Leach and Howard led VCL to the regional volleyball finals in the MHSAA Division 3 tournament. The Jayhawks lost to Hudson in five tough sets.

While missing her senior season on the diamond is important, so are other events for graduating seniors. Howard hopes the school can put together a graduation ceremony and prom.

“I am looking forward to walking across the stage as my grandmother (Tinker VanEpps) and uncle (Bryen Clark) hand my diploma to me,” Howard said. “It will come … probably later than we think.”

Vandercook Lake High School senior Kaely Howard earned the school record for digs in a season and career last fall for the Jayhawks. Photo by Jeff Steers, JTV Sports.
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