Battle Creek — Novi came back from a two-game deficit Friday night at Kellogg Arena to pull out a 18-25, 20-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-12 victory over Grand Haven to earn a trip to the Class A state championship match for the first time in school history.
Novi (54-5-1) will play Romeo in Saturday's 2 p.m. title match.
Freshman setter Erin O'Leary was the catalyst for the comeback, contributing 53 assists and coming up with a huge block on 6-foot-1 senior Amy Kober to give Novi a 10-8 cushion in the fifth and deciding game.
O'Leary had a huge smile on her face while she took the ball to serve with a 14-12 lead after her set resulted in a kill by junior outside hitter Paulina Iacobelli (21 kills, 15 digs) whose twin, Victoria (19 kills, 14 digs), also played a major role in the historical win.
"Yes, I know I did," said O'Leary when asked if she knew she was smiling with the outcome still in doubt. "We we had to be confident and I thought that was a really good time where I could just show my teammates that I had confidence in them and I knew we could do it. This is a great opportunity to be here and it's such a great experience and I'm so happy."
And, on that block, she replied: "It was the one thing I was focusing on. She (Kober) kept burning me and all my teammates really just got behind me and supported me and when I finally got it (block), it was a great feeling, to see my teammates and how proud they were of me."
Looking back, Novi was just a couple of points away from getting swept with Game 3 tied at 24. Novi came up with two straight points to stay alive and Grand Haven (53-9) couldn't recover to play at the same level it did the first two games. And, to make matters worse, Grand Haven's 6-foot junior outside hitter Emily Lachmann (22 kills, 16 digs) went down with a knee injury with Game 5 knotted up at 8.
Novi was at its best in Game 4, hitting at a .433 clip with Victoria Iacobelli chipping in with seven kills without an attack error, senior libero Jordan Massab getting eight digs, Paulina Iacobelli getting six digs and O'Leary leading the attack with 14 assists and a pair of digs.
"I was proud of how we were able to push through and stay composed when it was that intense of a situation," said Paulina Iacobelli of the comeback.
Paulina's sister had praise for O'Leary, as did Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill.
"She's amazing," praised Victoria Iacobelli of O'Leary. "She helps the team so much and we wouldn't be where we're at without her. Being a freshman, she leads the team."
Said Cottrill: "She has an incredible amount of composure. To play as well as she did on this stage is remarkable. Her dad coaches varsity soccer, both boys and girls at Novi and has won a handful of state championships so she's been around athletics and competition and knows what to do and how to act in big situations."
O'Leary's father, Brian O'Leary, was in the stands, proudly watching. He knows a little about winning, leading Novi's girls soccer program to five state titles (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011) and Novi's boys team to one in 1998.
When asked what he enjoyed more, the half dozen state titles as a coach or watching his daughter have the chance to play for one, he replied: "In coaching you put a season's worth of work in it, and I've seen her life's work into it so it's definitely better watching her. She's always happiest when she's playing volleyball."
Gia Milana showed it is without a doubt Romeo's time as a state power, sweeping traditional power Temperance Bedford in a Class A semifinal, 25-14, 25-23, 25-9.
"We haven't been here since 1998 so we just came in here, we're the underdogs, we're coming here to make a name for Romeo," said Milana, a 6-foot-1 junior outside hitter who will be a Miss Volleyball frontrunner next year. "We just went after it tonight. We swung at balls, we didn't just tip into easy spots. ... We were really focused on serve receive and everything was just working for us tonight."
Milana, already a Maryland commit, had 19 kills and a .389 hitting percentage. She had a kill to give Romeo a 24-23 Game 2 lead, then Jodie Kelly closed out the game with an ace. Senior setter Lauren Korth had 10 kills, a .625 hitting percentage and 34 assists.
Romeo changed its attack for Bedford (71-6-2), which has won three Class A state titles since 1998.
"We were running our middles a whole lot more tonight and I don't think they were ready for that," said Milana, who ended the match with a powerful kill. "Usually I get most of the balls, but our middles were doing just amazing tonight and they really opened up the blocks for all of our hitters and we could just see the spots and hit those spots.
"Lauren, our setter, was just making it so easy, the blockers couldn't read her sets."
Romeo (44-8-1) will face Novi (53-6-1) with a first-time state champion to be crowned Saturday afternoon.
"It's going to be a battle and we're ready for it," Milana said.