Taylor player, coach help Schoolcraft volleyball team to nationals

When the Schoolcraft College volleyball team plays for the National Junior College Athletic Association championship this week in Scottsdale, Arizona, two women with ties to Taylor will be in the mix.

Brittney Phillips, a 2005 graduate of Truman High School in Taylor, is a back row player on the Schoolcraft team. She is considered a serving and defensive specialist.

Debby Karabees-Betts, a counselor at Truman, has been part of the Schoolcraft coaching staff for six years. She recruited Phillips for the community college team and remains one of her biggest supporters.

Schoolcraft, located in Livonia, is one of 16 teams that won regional tournaments around the United States. The Ocelots – who are 34-5 this season – had to come out of the losers bracket and win twice against arch-rival Macomb Community College of Warren to earn the regional title in Grand Rapids. They took the five-set championship match in overtime.

Coach Tom Teeters said the team has as good a chance as any in Arizona, where the Ocelots are seeded 11th and open Thursday against No. 6 Iowa Central Community College (28-6).

In his 24th year as coach, Teeters, in his 24th year at Schoolcraft, guided the Ocelots to a Division I national championship in 1988 and a runner-up spot in the 2002 Division II tournament. This year, again in Division II, the team has fared well against competition outside of Michigan, winning a tournament in San Diego and finishing second in Illinois.

“In 2002, we pretty much went in unranked,” said Teeters, who also coaches the Brighton High School girls team. “We had a low seed in pool play. We knocked off the two seeds ahead of us. It’s kind of unknown.”

Phillips inspired to play

Phillips, daughter of Alicia and Dennis Davis of Taylor, has been playing volleyball since the sixth grade, when she showed promise in the AAU, and then at Brake Junior High School. As a high school senior captain, she led Truman’s volleyball team to its first division championship in the Mega Conference in 2005.

Phillips, 19, said her grandfather, Jack Phillips, inspired her to play. Grampa Phillips was from England would tell her stories about his sisters playing volleyball.

“My grampa was tall and I took after him,” said the 5-foot-9 Phillips, who also played three years of softball and basketball in high school. “He would tell me to follow my heart and pursue my dreams. It’s something I considered doing. He has since passed away and I continue to play for him.”

At Schoolcraft, Phillips was redshirted her first year out of high school, meaning she could gain seasoning during practice with the team but could not dress for games. As a result, she entered this season with two years of junior college eligibility left – and two more years after that if she transfers and plays at a four-year college.

That fits in well with her academic plans. She expects to earn an associates degree in childcare development and hopes to finish with a bachelor’s degree in business at Eastern Michigan.

This year, she has developed into an outstanding server as well as a defensive specialist, playing in the back row and digging serves and spikes sent by the opposition.

“Brittney is a serving specialist,” Teeters said. “Her main contributions come during our practices. Her defense has been improving steadily. She’s come a long way since she started the program last year.”

Phillips is proud of her academic achievement as well. On Monday, she won an academic achievement award for volleyball and earned the school’s award for “the greatest academic improvement by a female athlete.”

It hasn’t been easy. Besides going to class and practicing volleyball six days a week, Phillips holds down a job and has been helping out at home take care of her dad, who is battling a brain tumor and is about to undergo radiation treatment.

“When you have so much going on in your life, you have to have something to take your mind off of those things – especially with what’s going on in my life now,” she said.
From counselor to recruiter

Debby Karabees-Betts recruited Phillips in high school and knows her capabilities.

“I was her high school guidance counselor,” she said. “I watched her play a couple times and just saw there was some talent there. My job is to find scholar-athletes. That’s what we’re looking for. And the athlete that has some skill and can improve that skill and still play on.”

Karabees-Betts has coached with Teeters at Schoolcraft for six years and was part of the staff when the team played for the national title in 2002. That year, her daughter, Desiree, was captain of the Ocelots. From there, Desiree went on to play two more years at Saginaw Valley.

The assistant coaches credits Phillips for making the college team as strong as it is.

“She’s probably serving 500 times in a practice – and consistently,” Karabees-Betts said. “When she misses, she runs. Think of the mental toughness that has to take. That’s why I love her. You may not get in the game, but every practice you’re working your tail off. That’s something you can’t teach a kid. She has the heart of a champion.”

And when Phillips gets called in to play, she goes in “cold,” the coach said. “All of a sudden, the serving coach (Dale Hartzel) or Tom wants to run something else or somebody is having a problem, Brittney is told go to in and serve and serve here. It’s not just serving over the net, it’s serving it to a zone. She does that well.”
On to Arizona

Karabees-Betts, who graduated from Taylor Center High School and coached high school swimming and volleyball, said the Ocelots will fare well in the national tournament if they “play well and listen well to our serving coach.”

“This is probably the most talented team from the starters to the bench that I’ve been associated with,” she said. “But they’re still young. The leaders are very strong. The nice thing about this team is that we have won with every combination of players.”

Phillips likes Schoolcraft’s chances.

“We haven’t been to nationals since 2002,” she said. “Our coaches say we have a really good chance of winning. I’m ecstatic. I haven’t been to Arizona before. It’s kind of overwhelming, actually.”