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The last piece of the puzzle

October 17, 2018

It was the night before the start of volleyball tryouts and Michigan City coach TR Harlan was home vacuuming, yes, vacuuming, when his cell phone rang.

He didn’t recognize the number, so, like most people, he didn’t answer it. Moments later, there was a voice mail.

“It was hi, I’ve got a daughter, she played at Portage, we just moved back to Michigan City, what time are tryouts tomorrow?” he said. “I called her back and said 7:30.”

Harlan didn’t know it at the time, but the player, junior Aaliyah Briggs, would turn out to be the answer to the team’s biggest question: Who’s going to play the middle with Hannah Noveroske out?

“I remembered seeing the name, but I couldn’t tell you who how good she was,” Harlan said. “I called a couple people, (former Portage coach) Brian Zofkie, who still teaches there. He said, oh, she’s really athletic, she’ll be really good for you. I said, does she play middle? He said, yeah. Problem solved. We spent all summer playing five kids in the middle. We didn’t know.”

Briggs grew up in Michigan City and attended Kreuger in grades 6-8 before her family moved to Portage. She played on junior varsity as a freshman and varsity as a sophomore, and was with the Indians during the summer when the her parents decided they needed a bigger house.

“Six kids, two adults, a dog and a cat,” Briggs said. “It was a four-bedroom house.”

The family wasn’t set on returning to Michigan City, but that’s where they wound up finding the right place during the same week of volleyball tryouts. As for Briggs, she went down to practically the last minute before choosing whether to stay at Portage or attend M.C.

“I had to decide then and there,” she said. “I’m at grandma’s in Rolling Prairie thinking about it. I was going to stay in Portage, but with me taking (Advanced Placement) classes, getting home late, plus paying for my own gas, it was going to be more stressful.”

Briggs showed up for the tryout at City and immediately felt she made the right call, despite knowing the path to playing time wouldn’t be as easy.

“At Portage, I knew if I worked hard and did what I was supposed to do, I would be on varsity,” she said. “Here, it was a whole new change. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I connected a lot more to these girls. I don’t think I really connected at Portage. Maybe it was that I grew up here, I don’t know. I made friendships. They were nice. They got me into what I was supposed to do, how they do things. They helped me to get better.”

Harlan noticed the connection, too.

“Literally, from the first practice, it was like she’s been here forever,” he said. “They joked, laughed, giggled. The mom’s been great. The family’s been great. They’re here all the time. They’ve been very supportive. It’s been an awesome fit for us.”

On the court, the 5-foot-9 Briggs provided the sectional-champion Wolves with another presence at the net.

“It’s not like she’s 6-foot, but she can really jump,” Harlan said. “We had to work on some form things, some fundamentals. We talked a few weeks ago, she didn’t feel comfortable. She was putting pressure on herself, especially when Hannah wasn’t playing. She just wanted to be more of a factor. She was mad because she wasn’t getting enough kills. I told her, that’s not your job right now. Your job is to go block the ball, help set up the defense. Once she started to understand, I think she’s been feeling better about things.”

Briggs’ presence has also given Harlan the flexibility to move other players around while she holds steady in the middle.

“She just gave us that extra person,” he said. “During our run now, we can move Hannah back to the middle, Emily (Kinney) back to the middle. They can play together. We can do a lot of things on the front line to mix up our blocking assignments. Reece (Shirley) can play different places. Sam Flores can move back outside. Now we have four big kids and we have a chance to compete with big teams. At the end of the day, she’s really the key to everything that’s happened for us.”

As she and the Wolves prepare for Saturday’s Class 4A La Porte Regional date with Warsaw, Briggs knows without a doubt she made the correct choice.

“I feel a lot more at home,” she said.

Class 4A La Porte Regional

Saturday

Warsaw (29-7) vs. Michigan City (29-7), 10 a.m.

Penn (31-5) vs. Munster (32-4), approx. noon

Championship, 6 p.m.

Note: Michigan City is offering a free fan bus. Sign-ups must be made at the high school athletic office by today.