Class A volleyball: Romeo withstands late charge by Novi
Battle Creek — All Gia Milana talked about all season was getting Romeo on the volleyball map as an elite state power.
Milana put on an impressive performance to make sure Romeo reached her goal, playing a key role in a thrilling 25-23, 25-22, 14-25, 25-27, 15-9 win over Novi in the Class A championship match Saturday afternoon at Kellogg Arena.
It is Romeo's first state title in the sport and will make Milana as a frontrunner for Miss Volleyball next year. Novi was also searching for its first championship and wasn't about to go down without a fight.
"We've worked so hard for three straight years to just push this program," said Milana, who is committed to Maryland. "We needed to get recognized. We were the underdogs coming in here and we knew that, but we just wanted to show that we are so good as a team and worked hard to prepare for this."
Novi (54-6-1) won the first two matches between the teams, but Romeo (45-8-1) was without a key starter in each of the losses, including Milana (back injury) early in the season.
Romeo had everything clicking in the first two games, getting 10 kills from Milana, eight with a .357 hitting percentage from senior setter Lauren Korth, and seven kills and a .429 hitting mark from sophomore Jodie Kelly, with Katherine Betzing digging out eight balls and libero Deanna Krumholz seven.
Romeo hit at a .394 percentage in the opening game to set the tempo.
Korth finished with 11 kills, 43 assists and 12 digs, setting Milana up on the final kill of the night to earn Romeo the title.
"It feels amazing," Korth said. "We worked our butts off. Every practice we have a board that we would go to, saying districts, regional and state champs and we would hit it before every practice and just think about what it takes to get to this level and what it takes to win this and I thought we worked hard every practice and so it all paid off right here at this moment.
"Our libero (Krumholz) just takes charge on the court, Jodie Kelly really stepped it up in Game 5 with her passes and so did Gia. We just committed to it. We just followed the block where it went, and went in the holes and seams and we just got the pass and focused."
Novi came back from a 2-0 deficit in the semifinal to defeat Grand Haven, 26-24, 25-20, 15-12 in the final three games. History didn't repeat itself in the title match.
"That's pretty miraculous to do in the first place, at this point in the state tournament so to do it twice is a lot to ask, and 14 (Milana) came back in the front row at the end and she's a great player, a phenomenal player," Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill said. "We don't have a lot of height and she's hitting the ball pretty hard. We made some errors in the fifth set too, but I'm proud of them.
"We tried (to make adjustments) and I think we did. I think in the third set she (Milana) made a lot of errors and that allowed us to get some easy points and give us some momentum, but in the end she was just hitting around our block, hitting over our block and that's pretty hard to defend."
Novi hit at a .556 clip in Game 3, but was minus-.040 in Game 5. Junior outside hitter Victoria Iacobelli had 19 kills and a .340 hitting percentage for the match, with her twin Paulina getting 14 kills and sophomore Alyssa Cummings 14 kills. Freshman setter Erin O'Leary had 47 assists.
Milana was pounding the ball in Game 5, coming away with six of her 29 kills, but Romeo coach Stacy Williams praised her team's passing and defense, too.
"You have to feed the hot hand and Gia came through for us, but everyone came through defensively at the end and that was the difference," Williams said. "We were starting to pass the first ball and what we lost in that third and fourth game was the first touch, then in that last game we really started to pass the ball, get it to the hitter.
"We're state champs! Honestly, I don't know how to describe it. It's incredible. We were both fighting it out and no one was willing to let it go. I think what it really came down to, we had two fantastic teams that were fighting for a championship to the end and there's no better way to finish it."