By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
NORTON SHORES – They say volleyball is a game for tall people who leap high over the net and slam the ball in opponents’ faces.
But Dan Potts and his daughter, Kennedy Potts, have made that old stereotype seem pretty stupid.
Dan Potts, who stands 5-7, was a force for years on the professional beach volleyball circuit. He was a defensive specialist, diving for balls and setting up kills for his partners. He was also known for his competitive spirit and heated determination to win.
And guess what? Kennedy Potts, who is only 5-3, is the same type of player.
“We’re very similar,” Dan Potts told LocalSportsJournal.com. “We’re both kind of the underdog. We both play really hard and work really hard to excel.”
Together father and daughter have spent the past three years helping the Mona Shores volleyball team remain among the elite in the area.
Dan Potts is the Sailors’ veteran coach who came out of retirement following a successful stint at Fruitport. Kennedy Potts is the Sailors’ captain, spark plug and driving force, pushing her teammates with her intense play.
They are in the midst of their final season together, since Kennedy is a senior. Saturday will be their last Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tournament, where the Sailors will be defending their 2014 title.
There’s only one small complication for Kennedy. She is also a member of the Mona Shores golf team, which is playing in the state finals Friday and Saturday.
She will compete with the golf team Friday, then make a decision about what to do on Saturday, largely based on how the golf team is doing after one day of competition.
“Volleyball is her passion, and it would crush her to not play (at the city meet) on Saturday,” Dan Potts said. “But there’s a chance, if she has an opportunity to help do something special like win a state title.
“She is a big competitor who doesn’t want to let her teammates down in either sport.”
The city volleyball meet is scheduled to begin around 9 a.m. at Mona Shores High School. Reeths-Puffer, Muskegon Catholic, Whitehall, Montague, Muskegon, Orchard View, North Muskegon, Holton, Fruitport, Oakridge and Ravenna will also compete.
From the beach to the gym
Dan Potts ran track and played golf as a student at Reeths-Puffer High School. He ran cross country at North Muskegon because R-P didn’t have a program at the time.
He didn’t play organized volleyball until he was a student at Michigan State University and joined the club team.
He took to the sport, started playing on the beach back home in Muskegon, and ended up playing and excelling in the Midwest Professional Volleyball Association. The league featured two-player teams, competing in tournaments throughout the Great Lakes region.
“I didn’t play hardly at all at MSU,” Dan Potts said. “Most of my experience was on the beach. I caused opponents a lot of trouble by keeping the ball in play. That’s really how Kennedy plays, too.”
Dan Potts quit playing pro volleyball in the late 1990s, but by that time he had already broken into the coaching ranks.
He became the varsity volleyball coach at Fruitport High School in 1991 and led his team to the state Final Four six times in eight years. The Trojans won a state title in 2005 and were state runners-up for three straight years, 2001 through 2003, then again in 2006.
Dan Potts retired from coaching in 2007, then returned and took the Mona Shores job in 2013 for a variety of reasons. Longtime coach Kyle Kurant was retiring, and Kennedy Potts was about to become a Mona Shores sophomore who was good enough for varsity.
“Sometimes in life it’s all about timing,” Potts said. “I wasn’t anything I was eyeing or waiting for.
“The program was in pretty good shape when I came. But I think (Kurant) had his very best team in his last year, with seven seniors, so he did leave me with a bit of a rebuilding job to do.”
The Sailors have had a lot of success over the past three seasons.
They have won two straight O-K Black Conference titles in the Potts era and are currently in the hunt for a third.
The Sailors have also had success in the last two city tournaments, finishing second in 2013 and winning the title last year.Potts says it’s a major goal for his team to defend that trophy on Saturday.
“It’s a tournament that Kennedy and I have always held in high regard,” Potts said. “That’s why this weekend is such a tough decision for her.”
Following her father’s footsteps
Kennedy started playing volleyball in the fifth grade. That’s not surprising, since her father started taking her to tournaments when she was only a few weeks old.
“He never really had to push me,” Kennedy said. “I grew up watching it, it just grew on me, and I never really wanted to not play.”
Despite her small size, Kennedy was skilled enough to move up to varsity and start as a sophomore. She was happy when she learned her father was going to coach, but said it wasn’t very easy at first.
“My sophomore year was difficult,” Kennedy said. “It was hard to find my place on the varsity team as an underclassman.
“Having my Dad as the coach was cool, but it was challenging because of the dynamics of how other players might feel about him. The last two years have been great. We are very similar, we are both super competitive and we work really hard.”
Kennedy has certainly played a major role in her team’s success. She’s the small one who’s always diving to keep the ball in play, or making great serves to give her team an edge.
Kennedy has been an All-Conference player for two straight years and made the MLive All-Area Dream Team last season.
As one local publication wrote about her last year, “Potts was extremely active as Shores’ libero, hitting the floor for plenty of digs. The junior collected 538 digs, or 4.3 digs per set. She also made just 53 errors out of 580 serve receptions. Potts served at a 92 percent clip and collected 56 aces, and added 64 assists to help the Sailors to a league title.”
But all of her physical contributions aside, Kennedy’s coach thinks she lends the most to her team through leadership.
“Her greatest attribute is the way she treats her teammates,” Dan Potts said. “She makes a big difference just by helping them become better.”
“I always like to joke that I make up for my size with the heart I play with,” said Kennedy, who ranks second in her class with a 4.28 GPA. “I learned you make a big difference if you encourage people and give feedback. Leadership can make a difference between a 15-13 win and a 15-13 loss.”
While they both admit that it can be tough working together on the same team, father and daughter clearly share a great degree of love and respect.
“I appreciate all the things that he does and he doesn’t have to push me hard because we have a good chemistry,” Kennedy said. “I know it sounds biased but he is one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had. We can talk strategy for hours.”
“I think we have struggled at times,” Dan Potts said. “For the most part I love having her on my team. The spirit she brings is really nice. With two Potts on the team I feel we have a good chance against anybody.”