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Carlson paces Notre Dame Prep in quarterfinal victory

By James Hawkins
Special to The Detroit News

Clawson — One day after being bestowed with the title of Miss Volleyball, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep's Katherine Carlson turned in a performance that reaffirmed her selection as the state's best.

The senior outside hitter tallied 25 kills and eclipsed the 1,000-kill mark for the second straight season as top-ranked Notre Dame Prep toppled Catholic League foe Dearborn Divine Child in straight sets, 25-14, 25-12, 25-15, in a Class B volleyball quarterfinal Tuesday.

Notre Dame Prep, the defending Class B champ, advances to face No. 2-ranked North Branch in a semifinal at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. It's a rematch of last year's quarterfinal, which Notre Dame won in five sets.

"It's been a dream come true," said Carlson, who is committed to Valparaiso. "With this team, it's just been so much fun. ... It's a week I'm never going to forget. I'm really excited for what the future has in store for us."

In the lone meeting between the two teams back in September, Notre Dame won in straight sets, 25-9, 25-19, 25-17, but Divine Child was without some of its key players due to injury. This time around, Carlson and Notre Dame Prep coach Betty Wroubel were wary of Divine Child's 6-2 formation and knew they would be gunning at them even harder.

"We just had to come out scrappy, work hard, don't let the ball hit the floor and play as a team," Carlson said. "We just came out with lots of energy from the crowd to the bench."

Yet, it was Divine Child which came out energized to start the match as it jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first set. Notre Dame tied it at 4-4 and the teams exchanged points until Notre Dame went on a 5-0 run to take an 11-6 advantage.

Notre Dame (57-5) began pulling away after three kills by Carlson and a Jenna Sassack block gave it a 18-10 cushion. Then, after Divine Child cut it to 20-13, Notre Dame closed it out by winning five of the next six points to take the first set, 25-14.

Carlson began warming up midway through the second set, recording five out of six points for Notre Dame to turn a close 11-8 game into a 16-9 advantage. Notre Dame closed it out on a 8-3 run that was capped by a kill from Carlson.

"She's showed everybody why she was voted Miss Volleyball," Wroubel said. "That class of finalists was quite a roster, but Katherine can do it all and she has all of the shots. You saw her cut shot, her deep shot, a tip, a roll. It was all there whatever was needed.

"She finds a way to do it it's like Go-Go Gadget arms on some of them. She's just something else to watch and I can't believe we don't have that much time left with her."

Much like the first two sets, the third set started out back-and-forth until Notre Dame kicked it into another gear. Up 4-3, Notre Dame rattled off five straight points to take a 9-3 lead. The lead soon ballooned to 21-9 and Divine Child put up a fight scoring five of the next six points, but it was ultimately too little too late.

"It's tough to defend all the weapons that they have, but I think our girls never gave up which is what we asked them to do tonight," Divine Child coach Sarah Schmitt said. "Our goal was to have a better result (than the last meeting) and we did. We didn't have a chance last time we played them, but I thought we hung with them a little longer into each set."

Carlson also stuffed the stat sheet with 13 digs, 11 points and three aces, while Emma Kowalkowski led the defense with 22 digs and 21 service receptions for Notre Dame, which has dropped just one set in its six playoff games. Ashley Knutson and Hannah Antosz dished out 19 and 15 assists, respectively.

Jayci Forster led Divine Child (20-16) with eight kills, while Emily Reedy added six kills and Riley Blair had six solo blocks.

James Hawkins is a freelance writer.