$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.

Novi volleyball on quest to make history

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Battle Creek — Kellogg Arena is the site of the state volleyball finals, and Novi will be making the trip in search of its first state championship in school history.

Novi last made the trip to Battle Creek in 2007, losing in the semifinals to Birmingham Marian.

Novi, 52-5-2 and ranked No. 2, will play in a semifinal Friday at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of the Grand Haven-Mason quarterfinal, which was postponed Tuesday due to a snowstorm.

The Class C and B semifinals will be Thursday, with D and A action set for Friday, and the championship matches in all four classes Saturday.

Novi third-year head coach Jennifer Cottrill hopes her players embrace the atmosphere at Kellogg Arena, but not have their nerves play into the outcome of the match.

"This has been an excellent journey, and some of these kids will never live it again, so I really hope they embrace it," Cottrill said. "The big thing for our kids will be to control their nerves and anxiety and just trust the system that got us this far."

Novi is led by freshman setter Erin O'Leary and the Iacobelli twins, Victoria and Paulina, 5-foot-9 junior outside hitters.

So will O'Leary be bothered by the spotlight since she is just a freshman?

"She's calm and confident, and she's been very composed all year," said Cottrill. "You never know since she's just a freshman, but all her life she's always played up, playing on the 16-and-under AAU Club circuit as a 12-year-old."

O'Leary was certainly a clutch player in the three-game quarterfinal sweep of Lapeer on Tuesday, getting consecutive kills to help Novi collect the final three points of Game 1 to come back from a 27-26 deficit for a 29-27 win. Novi won the final two games, 25-16, 25-22. O'Leary had 38 assists and Victoria Iacobelli, 13 kills and 20 digs.

Novi repeated as KLAA champion this season and now is just a step away from playing for the ultimate title.

Cottrill is enjoying the run and for good reason: Her husband, Ricky, is the assistant coach.

"We met in college at Eastern Michigan where I played volleyball and Ricky, basketball," said Cottrill. Ricky was an All-MAC shooting guard a decade ago. "After college, he watched me coach volleyball and really picked things up. He's an athlete and a sports junky and just wanted to get involved. He's my assistant coach and he coaches his own AAU team during the off season."

Romeo vs. Temperance Bedford

Romeo (43-8-1), the MAC Red champions, will be facing No. 1 Temperance Bedford (70-5-2) in the 7:30 semifinal.

"Coming from the bottom, Romeo really hasn't done much in our past, so we were really, really focused on just doing whatever we could to get to where we want to be and that's Battle Creek and we're ready," said Romeo 6-2 junior outside hitter Gia Milana, who showed her power with 31 kills in a 25-16, 25-20, 23-25, 25-21 quarterfinal win over Farmington Hills Mercy to avenge to earlier losses to Mercy.

Bedford is coached by Jodi Manore, who has won three state championships (1998, 2001, '05). She ranks No. 2 in career wins with 1,813.

Last year, Romeo defeated 2012 state champion Macomb Dakota and Miss Volleyball award winner Carli Snyder to win its first regional title since 1998 before losing to Birmingham Marian in the quarterfinals.

During that '98 season, Romeo lost to Bedford in the semifinals … when Milana was still in diapers.

North Branch vs. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep

Miss Volleyball award winner Katherine Carlson and Notre Dame Prep will be playing North Branch for the third straight year during the final week of the season. They will battle in a Class B semifinal at 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

In 2012, North Branch defeated the Irish in the quarterfinals to move on to Battle Creek, where it lost to Lake Odessa Lakewood.

Last year, Notre Dame Prep defeated North Branch and went on to win the state title.

"This is the third straight year we've played them and whoever plays with the most passion will win," said Carlson, who had 25 kills in a quarterfinal sweep of Dearborn Divine Child to top the 1,000-kill mark for the second straight season.

"We've had a target on our back all season and that's helped motivate us. We have great chemistry and believe in each other and play for each other. We took it as a challenge to get back to Battle Creek and play for another state title. We're excited with the opportunity."

One of Carlson's teammates is junior libero Emma Kowalkowski, daughter of former Lions linebacker Scott Kowalkowski and granddaughter of former Lions offensive lineman Bob Kowalkowski.

Kowalkowski played a major role in the state title win last year, getting 20 digs.

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central vs. Unionville-Sebewaing Area

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central feels right at home at Kellogg Arena.

MSMCC won the Class C state title in 2003, '07 and again in 2010 and '12, also losing to Morley-Stanwood in the title match in '11 in a five-game thriller.

Well, MSMCC has earned yet another trip and will face Unionville-Sebewaing in a 3:45 p.m. semifinal Thursday.