CLASS B GIRLS VOLLEYBALL FINALS: Notre Dame Prep eanrs crowniung moment with first state title since ’07
BY DAN STICKRADT
BATTLE CREEK — To short years ago, Betty Wrubel decided to go young with her volleyball team at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, keeping several sophomores and freshmen on the Fighting Irish varsity.
The move finally paid off Saturday.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep captured its first Class B state championship since 2007 at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, as the top-ranked Irish slipped past fifth-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian, 25-15, 25-19, 19-25 and 25-23 to capture the crown jewel — the state championship trophy.
“We knew we had a lot of young, raw talent so we decided to keep them up,” said Wrubel. “We didn’t make the Catholic League tournament, which is rare for us, but we slowly came together and made a run to the regional finals before we lost to Marysville. I knew then that we could be a good team.”
Notre Dame Prep’s players received a constant reminder of how good the ’07 team was almost daily, as the Irish became the first Oakland County high school to win an MHSAA state title in volleyball during that season. The banner of proof resides on the west wall of the NDP gymnasium.
“Every time we walk into the gym for practice or games we see the 2007 banner and we wanted to put our own banner up there,” said 6-foot-2 senior Dani McCormick. “We knew we could do it. This was our goal the whole season.”
Notre Dame Prep (62-2-1) ended its title quest when Jenna Sassack slammed kill down the right side through a gap in the Sailors’ defense. The Irish had watched the Sailors bring the score to within 24-23 before finishing them off.
“It feels great to get that point, but to be honest it wouldn’t be possible if everybody on this team didn’t do their part, said Sassack. “This was a total team effort.”
Notre Dame Prep’s three-headed monster of junior Katherine Carlson, McCormick and Sassack threaded the Sailors from starboard to point side all night, combining for 54 kills in the match. Carlson had 25 kills on 66-for-72 attacking, including eight kills in the clinching Game 4. McCormick added 17 kills and Sassack followed with 12 kills for the Irish.
NDP finished 140-for-162 attacking as a team. Ashley Knutson picked up 36 assists, Hannah Antosz added 20 assists and Emma Kowalkowski scooped up 20 digs, one of four Irish players to record double digits with digs.
“I’m so happy for the players,” said Wrubel. “I’ve been here before, but for them it’s the first time. But what a team. You know, everybody accepts their role. We could have Katherine Carlson get 50 kills and Dani McCormick (add) 40 kills and everybody else combined for one kill and we would still be happy if we won. This team only cares about winning.”
Notre Dame Prep was the aggressor in Game 1, turning an 8-7 deficit into an 18-11 advantage. The Irish closed out with a 6-4 run.to go up 1-0 overall. NDP never trailed set-wise.
“This is what we worked for so long,” said Carlson. “Getting to Battle Creek and winning the state championship…it’s like a dream come true.”
In Game 2, NDP grabbed leads of 10-6 and 19-14 advantage before South Christian (47-11-3) closed to within 20-7 late. An ace from Bella Buchi capped a 6-5 run to close out the set.
South Christian, making its first finals appearance since the winter of 2006 when the Sailors dropped a five-game thriller to Marysville, did not go down without a fight.
The Sailors captured Game 3 behind the play of senior Taylor Wieremga, who slammed four kills in the set, including three of her team’s final five points during a 6-0 run.
The fourth and final set saw NDP dominate early with a 7-3 lead. The Sailors used a 7-4 run to close the gap down to 24-23, only to fall short of a fifth game.
“We did a great job coming back in Game 3 and Game 4, but we came up a little short,” said South Christian coach Allison Seagraves, whose team finished 46-12-1. “We had a great run. We lost to a very good team. Notre Dame Prep has some amazing players.”
Wierenga led South Christian with 17 kills. Cassidy Vredevoogd added 13 kills, Danielle Oeverman had 10 kills and Emily Blankespoor picked up 41 assists and 14 digs.