Battle Creek— Pontiac Notre Dame Prep put an exclamation point on its incredible season Saturday evening at Kellogg Arena, earning a sweep (25-16, 25-17, 28-26) over Lake Odessa Lakewood in the Class B state championship match.
And, Notre Dame Prep (63-2-2) had to battle back from a 17-13 third set deficit to earn the sweep to claim its 53rd consecutive win of the season. It swept its way through every opponent during the postseason run.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them, they’ve worked very hard for this,” said Notre Dame Prep coach Betty Wroubel, who also guided the Irish to state championships in 2007 and 2013. “My two four-year seniors Lauren Burnick and Gabrielle Shilling were here in the Final Four their freshmen year, and their sophomore year they experienced a disappointing loss and it was at that point they said it’s never going to happen again, that we’re going to win a state championship before we graduate and they led us here and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Shilling, a 6-foot-1 senior middle hitter who is headed for Rhode Island, had 12 kills and a strong .632 hitting percentage.
“It was really a team win, and I don’t get to score in the middle unless our outsides are scoring so it was a really balanced win tonight,” Shilling said.
And, on the third set deficit?
“We knew that we had come back from bigger deficits before so the four-point lead that they had really didn’t shake us,” Shilling said. “We just stayed in the moment, had fun and it ended up working out for us. It feels so great to win a state title, everything just feels fulfilled right now.”
Still, Wroubel knew Lakewood (47-5-2) was capable of pulling off an upset, especially after losing in the state title match last year.
“It’s a huge motivating factor to come back and I didn’t know if it would be a trump card on us,” said Wroubel. “We knew they’d come out like gangbusters, like a wounded animal in that third game and we had to weather the storm. We weathered it early, then self-destructed there in the middle, but they regrouped, kudos to our team that they overcame their mistakes and were able to shake them off and finish strong.”
Six-foot junior outside hitter Natalie Risi had a match-high 17 kills and a .471 hitting percentage and 12 digs for Notre Dame Prep, 6-2 junior outside hitter Madeline Chinn, seven kills and Burnick, the senior setter, 42 assists and 12 digs.
“It was a lot of pressure on us, but it was a privilege to have it,” Risi said. “We just came in and had confidence, but respect for the other team knowing it was anybody’s game. We just put in so much hard work into it, practices every day, even Saturdays and Sundays so that really helped prepare us for everything that was to come.”
So where does the ’17 state championship team compare with the two other title teams?
“Every team’s been a little bit different, this one has more firepower,” Wroubel said. “We’ve had quicker defenses, but we have a pretty big block this time so it makes up for it. Every team has been a little bit different.
“That first one was the scariest, winning the first one for Oakland County in 2007. In ’13, Katherine Carlson and her leadership, along with Ashley Knutson and all the other girls were just a close team. This team is close, plus a lot of firepower and once they get going it’s a tough train to stop.”
Notre Dame Prep could be back next year for a repeat, especially with Risi and Chinn back, along with 5-11 sophomore middle Taylor Raiola, daughter of former Lions center Dominic Raiola.
“I knew we had it in us and it’s so awesome that we had the chance to do this,” said Raiola, who grew up in Hawaii before moving to attend Notre Dame Prep her freshman year. “We all had that strive that we want to win the state title and we weren’t going to let anybody else take that from us, not even a set, and everybody did a good job of pushing forward even when we were down in the third set.”
Breanna Wickerink and Alivia Benedict — both seniors — each had 10 kills for Lakewood.