Gabriel Richard rolls past North Branch to capture first Class B title; Bronson sweeps SMCC for Class C crown
Battle Creek – During Saturday’s medals presentation, Mayssa Bazzi kept signaling over to her team the words forty-two and zero.
That’s the amazing feat that Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard accomplished on the volleyball court this season.
The top-ranked Fighting Irish put the finishing touches on a 42-0-0 season on Saturday with a 3-0 sweep over No. 8-ranked and defending state champion North Branch at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
Gabriel Richard rolled to a 25-21, 25-14, 25-19 triumph over the Bronchos, who were making their sixth state final appearance in the past decade. The Irish captured their first crown since winning the Class D title in 1991.
All four classes saw the defending state champions go down via sweeps.
“It’s all so surreal, to be honest,” smiled Bazzi who, in three years, has established her program as a state power. “I mean to go unbeaten…You couldn’t ask for anything more. I don’t think this has set in yet. It might not be for years when we look back on the season and realize that we never (lost or split) a match. That’s incredible.”
Junior Jurnee Tipton put on a finals clinic with kills on 26 of her 38 attempts for a .658 attacking percentage to go along with 11 digs to lead Gabriel Richard. Senior Emily Tanski added 23 kills on 55 attacks with 14 digs, junior Emma Nowak contributed 50 assists and senior Rachel Dunlavy added 11 digs and two aces for the Irish.
Gabriel Richard became the first team to venture throughout the season without a loss since Fraser in Class A pulled off the rare feat in 2002. Only six teams in MHSAA history have ever finished a season undefeated.
“It is such a blessing to be able to do this, to win a state championship and go undefeated,” said Tipton, who will be amongst the candidates for Miss Volleyball in 2016. “We had the Lord bless me and my team with the ability to go out there and do this. I knew if we went out there and did our best that everything would just fall into place.”
North Branch stayed within striking distance in the first and third games but could never pull ahead.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and to be honest, that’s one of the best I’ve seen,” conceded North Branch coach James Fish. “I mean Tipton was incredible with 26 kills and the .658 attack percentage. We left other girls open with the hopes that they would go with someone else. But they kept going with Tipton and Tanski and we couldn’t stop them. What can I say? We lost to a great team.”
North Branch (57-12-2) was paced by junior Olivia Fike’s 13 kills. Freshman Allyson Severance added 11 kills with 14 digs, junior Madee Miner had 26 assists and senior Alexas Hernandez supplied six kills and 10 digs for the Bronchos, who are now 2-4 all-time in state title games.
The state rankings held true to form in this class.
Top-ranked Bronson captured its first state title since 2009 with a 3-0 victory over No. 2-ranked and defending state champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
The Vikings (57-10-3) posted wins of 25-22, 25-21 and 26-24 to dethrone a St. Mary CC program that won state titles in 2014, 2012, 2010, 2007 and 2003.
Bronson coach Jean LaClair felt that a month into the season the Vikings began to click as a unit and climb the rankings accordingly.
“It was a month into the season that I knew we had a special group,” she smiled. “We had a great group of seniors with some freshmen and sophomores that we making key contributions. They get along so well and chemistry is everything in girls sports. Everything just came together and we were able to make a run and win a state championship.”
Bronson is 2-0 all-time in state title matches. St. Mary CC (52-7-3) is 5-2 in state title matches, including the five aforementioned titles along with finishing as the state runner-up in Class B in 1991 and Class C this year.
Kirin Cekander finished off the match with her team-leading 11th kill on the day to go along with 15 digs for the Vikings. Alex Ratkowski added 34 assists and Jill Pyles slammed nine kills for Bronson.
“She’s our energizer bunny, the one that holds us together,” praised LaClair of Cekander. “Every team has a player like that, a player that everyone feeds off of.”
St. Mary CC was under the direction of first-year coach Karen O’Brien. The Kestrels put together another fine season which came up one win short of a fourth title in seven years.
“The only difference was that I was calling the shots this year,” noted O’Brien. “We still have the same tradition and same goals. We made another great run this year. We were in all three games and we had leads in each game. We just couldn’t finish them off. We lost to a very talented team.”
Skylar Iott had 15 kills and seven digs to lead St. Mary CC. Regan Hodgson added 10 kills and eight digs, Nicole Pollzzie had 10 kills, Lauren Kemmerling followed with 18 assists and two aces and Abby Thompson contributed 15 digs for the Kestrels.