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Novi takes last two sets, defeats Rockford, 3-1, to repeat as Class A champs

By: Dan Stickradt, November 19, 2016, 7:24 pm

(Photos by Hockey Weekly | MHSAA Network)

Battle Creek – Rockford accomplished something that few teams have been able to do this season — win a set against top-ranked Novi.

That served to wake a sleeping giant.

Novi found itself in a 1-1 deadlock with fifth-ranked Rockford before the Wildcats pulled ahead with two more victories for a 3-1 triumph over the Rams in the Class A state final at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

Novi, ranked in the top 10 in the nation by both and, prevailed in four sets in close fashion, 25-22, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22 to win its second straight state title.

The Wildcats spent all but two weeks ranked No. 1 in the state over the course of the last two seasons.

“We were No. 1 all of last year and we were for 90 percent of this year except for two weeks when DeWitt was No. 1, so being No. 1 is all they know,” Novi coach Jenn Cottrill said. “Erin (O’Leary’s) freshman year, we were kind of the underdog and we ended up scraping our way here. We lost to Romeo in the finals. But since then, being (the favorite) is all they know.”

Novi finished 54-1-0 with 48 total sweeps matches. Clarkston, which defeated Novi at a tournament back in September, was the sole team to win two sets against the Wildcats and the sole team to defeat Novi.

The Wildcats won 42 straight matches (40 via sweeps) to close the season. Only Northville and Rockford took sets against Novi in the postseason.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s not something that you ever expect,” said Cottrill. “We always focus on winning the next game, getting the next point. You don’t expect this. We try to stay in the moment. But when you step back and look at it, this is phenomenal. We have high expectations of ourselves and the teammates and we were able to accomplish all of this.”

Rockford, the 2011 state champion, gave the Wildcats one of their toughest matches of the season.

“It was a great match. Novi obviously is a great team. They have a lot of big offensive weapons,” said Rockford coach Kelly Delacher. “We felt like we felt that we could come in and play some really good defense. We held them to a .142 hitting percentage, which I think is pretty good against a caliber team with their firepower. I was very happy with how we competed and kept ourselves in every single game. We gave ourselves a chance to win.

“As I said before, Novi has some incredible offensive weapons. I felt like we did a good job at times slowing them down a little bit. They just had too much firepower for us to stop in the end."

Rockford fought back from an 11-8 deficit to take leads of 16-14, 19-17 and 20-19 in Game 4. Novi responded with a 6-2 run to close out the set ending with a kill from Notre Dame-bound Abryanna Cannon.

A transfer from Traverse City Central, Cannon finished with a match-high 20 kills to lead Novi. Ally Cummings added 10 kills and 14 digs, Claire Pinkerton had 21 digs and O’Leary had 33 assists and four aces for the Wildcats.

“When we went to some of our training (sessions) this year, we talked about pressure is a privilege,” said O’Leary. “We think of ourselves so highly and we hold ourselves to such a high standard that the pressure is pretty much on ourselves because we expect to play at a certain level. I think there was some pressure from the outside, kind of like background noise. But we always expected to play at a high level.”

Olivia Rademacher had 12 kills, both Cassandra Smigiel and Sara Majerle added 11 kills and Hailey Delacher picked up 43 assists, Mykayla Vallad contributed 27 digs.