GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Notre Dame Prep outlasts North Branch in quarterfinals thriller to reach Final Four
BY DAN STICKRADT
PONTIAC — On its journey to the 2007 Class B girls volleyball state championship, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep was rarely tested. If the Fighting Irish are to claim another state crown this season, they’ll certainly look back to Tuesday’s marathon thriller.
Notre Dame Prep, the top-ranked team in Class B, outlasted No. 3 North Branch, 3-2, in a match that lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, and had more twists and turns than a mountain road.
Notre Dame Prep (60-2-1) captured Game 1 (25-15) and Game 2 (25-21), only to see the Bronchos take Game 3 (25-14) and Game 4 (25-23). In Game 5, Notre Dame Prep overcame being faced with elimination eight times before scoring the game’s final two points to prevail 24-22.
“When we won it all in ’07, we only lost one set. We never had a game like this in that (title run),” recalled veteran Notre Dame Prep coach Betty Wrubel. “This was an incredible le win. We just had that will to win.”
Notre Dame Prep advances to the state semifinals Friday at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, where the Irish will face No. 2 Wayland Union at 7:15 p.m. Fifth-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian and seventh-ranked Cadillac will face off in the 5:30 p.m. semifinal.
North Branch, which finished 60-7-3, defeated Notre Dame Prep in last year’s regional finals, but came agonizingly short this time around. In the Game 5 tiebreaker, the Bronchos held a 21-20 lead, the team’s eighth one-point advantage after a 14-13 lead, but could not finish off the Irish.
“In a game like this … we left it all out on the floor. That’s all you can ask of them,” admitted North Branch coach James Fish. “They kept coming back on us. We had them eight times (at match point in Game 5) and couldn’t get the game-winner. That’s a credit to them.”
Dan McCormick, Notre Dame Prep’s 6-foot-2 senior middle, said her team never lost confidence, even when faced with a point away from elimination.
“We kept up our hope. We knew we just had to keep playing defense and we would find a way to win,” smiled McCormick. “Each time they had us (in Game 5), we scored a point to tie it. We finally took the lead and won it. What a way to get to the (Final Four) as a senior. If couldn’t have been any closer.”
McCormick had 29 kills in the match, while junior Katherine Carlson added 29 kills, including seven kills in Game 1, to go along with 30 digs. Jenna Sassack added 15 kills, while Elen Guerra added eight kills and Hannah Antosz chipped in with 38 assists and Ashley Knutson had 33 assists for NDP.
The Irish dominated long stretches of the first two games, but struggled with unforced errors and the play of North branch junior Laura Willson, who tallied a co-match-high 29 kills and five blocks.
North Branch finished 106-for-108 serving and nearly pulled off the upset of the top-ranked Irish with its stellar play. Jamie Barrows added 49 assists, 18 digs and five of her team’s seven aces for the Bronchos.
“It’s strange, but one play really could have made the difference,” said Fish, whose team was involved in a Game 5 volley that last more than 50 touches. “We had that one that rolled along the net for about three feet. If that one goes another foot or two longer, it would have fallen to (open space) for the point. We would have won.”
Wrubel, whose team has not lost to a Class B or smaller school all season, acknowledged her team needs to play better during the final weekend of the season.
“We need to pay better if we are to go any further,” she said. “But I’m not complaining, really. We won this game, an amazing high school volleyball game. The girls have worked so hard to get to this point. Their goal this season was to get to Battle Creek and now they earned that right.”
(By the coaches association)
Class A — 1. Hudsonville; 2. Portage Central; 3. Birmingham Marian; 4. Rockford; 5. Novi; 6. Northville; 7. Grand Haven; 8. East Grand Rapids; 9. Temperance Bedford; 10. Clarkston.
Honorable Mention — East Kentwood, Saline, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, Farmington Hills Mercy, Grand Rapids Christian, Livonia Stevenson, Romeo, Lake Orion, Dexter, Holland West Ottawa, Macomb Dakota.
Class B — 1. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep; 2.Wayland Union; 3. North Branch; 4. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central; 5. Grand Rapids South Christian; 6. Holland Christian, 7. Cadillac; 8. Mt. Morris; 9. Croswell-Lexington; 10. Frankenmuth.
Honorable Mention — Berrien Springs, Grosse Ile, Ida, Dearborn Divine Child.
Class C — 1. Mendon; 2. Morley-Stanwood; 3. Beal City; 4. Unionville-Sebewaing; 5. St. Louis; 6. Bronson; 7. Schoolcraft; 8. Grand Rapids Covenant Christian; 9. New Lothrup; 10. Galesburg-Augusta;
Honorable Mention — Traverse City St. Francis, Boyne City, Bad Axe, Calumet, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Class D — 1.Battle Creek St. Phillip Catholic; 2. Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes; 3. Onaway; 4. Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart; 5. Hillsdale Academy; 6. Leland; 7. Rogers City; 8. Athens; 9.Crystal Falls Forest Park; 10. Stephenson.
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)