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D2 VOLLEYBALL SEMIS: No. 2 Lake Odessa Lakewood follows mapped-out route, beating No. 5 Notre Dame Prep to make finals

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 22, 2019, 7:47 pm

BATTLE CREEK — There are many different paths to the MHSAA volleyball finals at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena — you just have to map out the one that works for you.

For Lake Odessa Lakewood junior Aubrey O’Gorman, it was a simple process.

“I have a bracket hung up in my locker, and I wrote Grand Rapids Christian and Lakewood in the finals the first week. Talking about that all the time gives us something to look forward to,” the junior middle blocker said. “I think that we work hard enough in the offseason, and in the beginning of the season, we see some of the toughest teams, and I think that prepares us to know that we’re good enough, and we will be playing Grand Rapids Christian in the finals.”

The No. 2-ranked Lakewood Vikings (40-12) had one last hurdle to get past before getting that chance, though, and closed out last Division 2 year’s runner-up, No. 5 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (48-11-2) in a four-set win, 25-17, 25-21, 20-25, 25-20, to advance to Saturday’s title match.

For the Irish, it was maybe not a spot some may have thought they’d be in, considering they graduated 2018 Miss Volleyball, Maddy Chinn, and another Miss Volleyball candidate in Natalie Risi, who recently earned freshman of the year honors in the Mid-American Conference at Ball State.

Don’t tell that to longtime Irish coach Betty Wroubel, though.

“If you knew me a little bit better, I always think we can get here. I’m very competitive. I always think there’s a way to get here. It’s just different. A couple of my players over the summertime, I’m not so sure they were convinced we could be here. I think the staff thought (we could). It’s just going to be a different way,” Wroubel said. “It’s not going to be the bangers up at the ned, it’s going to be great defense. I knew we had some good defenders, and I knew we could do it, and build the offense. So we improved that part of our game as the season went on. I’m really proud of them.

“I think we can always get here — there’s a way to get here. It’s not always an easy path. Not every kid is willing to take that hard path. Our kids will do that to get here.”

The ultra-young Irish were out-sized at the net in this matchup, with Aubrey O’Gorman checking in at 6-foot-3, and sophomore Maradith O’Gorman at 6-2, both at least three inches taller than anyone in a Notre Dame uniform Friday.

“I think we’re ‘normal-sized.’ We’ve been extremely tall in the past. We’re a normal-sized team. I don’t know that that was the difference. I think our youth was a little bit more of a difference today. We didn’t quite play as well as we usually do,” Wroubel said.

“It’s a big stage to come to. … Kids played hard. I’m really proud of their efforts. We didn’t play a great game today. So we know what’ll happen. I’m proud of their efforts, and they played their hearts out. It happens in sports, it happens in life, it happens everywhere. You learn from it, and you move on. 

“We had a couple of seniors that were carrying a very young team, and I think they did a great job.”

One of those two seniors, 5-foot-11 Emily Mohr, agreed with her coach.

“It’s volleyball, it’s a tall game. I like the competition across the net, but I don’t think it’s a size game. They got some really good swings, and we didn’t have a good block today. … We’ve played teams that have been taller than that, and have been perfectly fine,” Mohr said. “We came out a little nervous today, and that’s OK, because it is a young team, but I have a ton of faith they can get back here and in the years to come.”

Last year, it was Lakewood coming out nervous in a semifinal match against Grand Rapids Christian. A year made a tremendous difference.

“It definitely gave me experience. I knew coming in what the gym looks like, what the energy’s like, and I can give that to the freshmen, too,” Aubrey O’Gorman said. “I think the experience in the last couple of games have given me just the thought process of just coming in and dominating. It’s going to be high-level energy when it comes to Kellogg Arena, and we know that.”

The difference in her performance on that stage was marked, too, as coach Cameron Rowland pointed out. Aubrey O’Gorman had eight kills and eight hitting errors last year, hitting .000. This year, she had 28 kills and four errors, hitting .511.

“So I think last year’s match told Aubrey she wasn’t good enough yet,” Rowland said, pausing when she interjected her agreement. “That’s a word we use all the time, is ‘yet.’ She knew ‘If I want to do this, I need to get better.’ She’s going to MSU, and she knew she had to get better if she was going to play matches like that, because every weekend for the rest of her life, after she graduates, is matches like that.”

After the Vikings got up 2-0 in the match, they hadn’t won anything — yet.

The Irish won the third set, then rallied to tie things up at 16-16 in the fourth set, before the Vikings pulled away to close it out.

“Any team coached by Betty is around in November this late for a reason. I knew that she was going to do a really good job of keeping them going. I knew she had some young kids that she could tell them ‘Hey, you have another chance at this, but you don’t know that.’ From being on benches in those situations, I know that’s really powerful. We have that on our same side of the net, too,” Rowland said. 

“So I kind of re-set us after the third set, gave almost the same speech verbatim that I gave before the first set, and they do the little ‘Hoo-Rah’ thing they do. … The intensity level in our gym is very loud. We have four or five coaches who are very loud. So it’s no shock factor there. So if I found another gear, like I had in the first and second sets, in terms of finding that intensity they depend so much on me for. I always tell them, ‘I can bring that for you guys, if you need it.’ This group does, and they know that. I had to re-find that in myself.”

The Vikings appreciated it.

“When Cam gets hype, we get hype. I think we feed off of that high-level energy,” Aubrey O’Gorman said. 

Maradith O’Gorman had 20 kills for the Vikings, while Skylar Bump had 44 assists and 16 digs. Kiana Hummel had 18 digs.

Aly Borellis led Notre Dame with 20 kills, adding 18 assists and eight digs, while Margo Sudzina had 25 assists. Livy Kowalkowski had 20 digs and Josie Bloom had 14.