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Runner-up last season, Novi looks to capture school’s first volleyball state title

By: Jeff Dullack, November 11, 2015, 4:45 pm

Novi – A season ago, Novi saw its season end in heartbreaking fashion as the Wildcats lost in the Class A final in five games to Romeo.

But that experience has only added fuel to the fire.

The Wildcats have spent the majority of this season ranked No. 1 and, this week, are looking to claim a second consecutive regional title.

Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill said that her team’s trip to Battle Creek where the Wildcats fought off slow starts, falling behind 2-0 against Grand Haven in the semifinals as well as Romeo in the final, has helped her prepare the team for this season’s tournament.

“What we learned is that it’s a journey,” she said. “You have to break it down and you have to focus on each opponent individually and in retrospect, it’s all new, everybody’s 0-0, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you have to battle. You’re going to be up, down, around and no matter what, you’re just battling.

“So yeah, it was heartbreaking at the end. But to get to that point, because we were down 2-0 in both the semifinals and the finals, just shows that you have to battle and how bad you want it and how hard you want to work for your teammates too.”

Novi is led by senior Miss Volleyball finalist Victoria Iacobelli, her twin sister Paulina, as well as junior Ally Cummings and sophomore Erin O’Leary.

Victoria Iacobelli said last year’s run has set the Wildcats up for another successful run this year.

“We know exactly what it takes to go far,” she said. “We know how exciting it is and that we can’t take one game off and so just coming from last year, we know what we have to do.”

O’Leary re-emphasized what her teammate said.

“It’s made us a better team,” O’Leary said. “It’s given us experience and it’s made us stronger.”

As expected, Novi entered this season as one of the top teams and one of the favorites to win the Class A title.

So far, Novi hasn’t disappointed.

Novi (46-2) will host Farmington Hills Mercy in Thursday’s regional final. One of Novi’s losses was to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, the No. 1 team in Class B.

Cottrill said that her team struggled with expectations and the lofty ranking at the beginning of the year. She added that the experience helped the Wildcats throughout the year.

“We had some issues with it at the beginning of the year,” she said. “Teams would come at us and we would buckle down a little bit, just afraid of the result. So I think it’s going to help us in the long run, because we’ve had to deal with the pressure all year, so now when we’re in this position, we’ve dealt with it for 10 weeks.

“I think it’s going to help us that we went through that. We struggled with it a little bit and we talked a lot about the mental game and how to do that better, and we are now. It’s a target on our back, but it’s been a blessing for us to prepare for the pressure in the playoffs.”

O’Leary is one of the top setters in the country in the class of 2018 and she said that being ranked No. 1 is something her team has used to their advantage.

“Other teams can try to make it a disadvantage for us,” she said. “But it’s postseason now, and the rankings don’t mean anything anymore, so we just have to use it to give us confidence and keep us motivated.”

A four-year starter, Victoria Iacobelli paces the Novi attack from her outside hitter position. She said that the top ranking is something that she and her teammates have prepared for mentally throughout the season.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “We know we have a target on our back, but we know how to control it, we’ve been working mentally to tame that and to prepare ourselves for that type of situation, to always have teams coming at us playing their best.”

Cottrill said Iacobelli’s experience continues to help her team going forward. But she’s not alone. Her sister, O’Leary and Cummings also bring plenty of experience to the team.

“(Victoria) hasn’t come off the court since she was a freshman,” Cottrill said. “She plays all the way around, just her experience of being through it all, her sophomore year, we lost to Northville in their gym to lose the district title. But the leadership of just knowing that you can be down and out like we were last night and we can fight back to win, her and Paulina and Erin and Ally’s experience is a blessing because they’ve been through it and they know what it takes.”