Romeo goes the limit to win Class A title
Battle Creek – Romeo proved Saturday that the only state rankings that really matter are the ones released at the end of the season.
Entering the postseason ranked No. 8 in Class A, the Bulldogs captured their first volleyball state title at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena with a 3-2 triumph over No. 2 Novi in the Class A championship match.
Romeo won the first two games, 25-23 and 25-22, yielded the third and fourth games, 25-14 and 27-25, and stormed back to win the fifth and deciding game, 15-9.
Romeo had lost in the 1997 Class A state finals to Portage Northern (2-0). The Bulldogs also reached state semifinals in 1999.
“We started to see the change a couple of years ago in our district opener against Clarkston,” Romeo coach Stacy Williams said. “We didn’t win that game and Clarkston was ranked really high at the time, but I knew we could become a good team in a couple of years and here we are. We beat Clarkston in the regional finals this season and I think we really started to believe that we could win this year. We beat (Farmington Hills) Mercy in the quarters and Temperance Bedford in the semifinals and I think they were ranked No. 1 (heading into the tournament). We just came together at the right time.”
Junior Gia Milana, a 6-foot-1 middle who is considered the leading candidate for the 2015 Miss Volleyball honor, clinched the match that took two hours to complete with a thundering kill down the middle.
“We wanted to put Romeo on the map,” said Milana.
Point well served.
Milana finished 50-for-64 attacking with a match-high 29 kills and had nine digs and three aces in leading the Bulldogs. She did not do it alone.
Jodie Kelly added 13 kills on a 30-for-33 attacking performance, Lauren Korth chipped in 11 kills and 43 assists and Katherine Betzing finished with 20 digs for the Bulldogs (45-8-1).
“I think Gia is our leader out there and she handles it well,” said Williams. “She’s our go-to player, no question about it. But other teams know that she’s our go-to player and they key on stopping her. But that leaves others open and we have others that can step up and we showed that again today.
“I think the difference for us in Game 5 is we went back to being aggressive and going after them,” continued Williams. “We didn’t always do that in the third and fourth games.”
Novi, making its first state-final appearance, finished 54-6-1. The Wildcats reached the winter 2007 state semifinals but had not been back to Battle Creek since that campaign until now.
“It’s amazing what this team accomplished this weekend,” said Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill. “We came back on Grand Haven Friday night (in the state semifinals) after being down 2-0. Then we comeback in the state finals again after being down 2-0. I think we just couldn’t hang on to the momentum (in Game 5).”
Two kills by Victoria Iacobelli and a service point from Erin O’Leary eventually gave Novi the Game 4 victory. The Wildcats fell behind 8-4 in the fifth game and could never recover.
Milana had seven kills and Korth added two block-kills in the fifth game, including the 14th point to set up the match-clincher.
“She’s a great player,” said Cottrill of Milana. “We did stop her some in the third and fourth games. But she gave them some moment um in the fifth game and we ran out (of steam). Plus she’s so tall and we are not very tall at all. Our tallest players are 5-9, maybe 5-10. At times, (Milana) just hit over us.”