Battle Creek — Top-ranked Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard put on a dominating performance, sweeping Goodrich, 25-17, 25-9, 25-14, in less than an hour Friday night in a Class B volleyball state semifinal at Kellogg Arena.
Gabriel Richard (41-0) will play for the title at 4 p.m. Saturday againstdefending champion North Branch. A victory would make it just the sixth team in state history and the first since Fraser in 2002 to earn the championship while going unbeaten. It lost to Harper Creek in a quarterfinal last year.
Gabriel Richard showed off its trio of dominant hitters in the opening game, getting five kills apiece from 5-foot-11 middle blocker Sydney Burton (Northwest Missouri State), 5-9 senior outside hitter Emily Tanski (New Hampshire) and 5-8 junior outside hitter Jurnee Tipton.
Gabriel Richard has lost just six games, sweeping every team it has faced during the postseason run.
Tipton had six more kills and Burton five in the Game 2 rout.
Gabriel Richard couldn’t have been much better against Goodrich (39-10-1). It had a .429 hitting percentage in the first two games and finished at .364 for the match. Junior setter Emma Nowak had 43 assists.
“Most teams only have one person that they can go to, knowing they can get a kill, but I have Sydney, I have Emily, I have Jurnee, I have India (Woods), all these players that I know if I set them, they’ll get a kill,” Nowak said.
“For me, it’s all about looking at the block, seeing where the block is, setting it where the block isn’t and even if the block is there, I still know they’ll get the kill. It’s amazing. And, our all-around game is so good. Our serve-receive is awesome, which makes my job of setting easier.”
Tipton had 16 kills and a .429 hitting percentage, Tanski had 15 and a .424 and Burton had 12 kills. Senior libero Rachel Dunlavy had 18 digs, Tanski 13 and Tipton 12.
Third-year coach Mayssa Bazzi was pleased with the win, but thinks her team can play better.
“I don’t think a single one of our hitters took the swing that we did Tuesday night (quarterfinal win) against Lakewood,” she said. “I think (Tipton) took it a little easy tonight. Every time she took a swing I said I’ve yet to see it (powerful hit). I think she’s saving it for tomorrow.
“We’ve been on a mission all year, We definitely have great chemistry on the court. They work well together and we do have some great volleyball players and that always helps.
I’ve said this before: When you look at us, I don’t think we intimidate anybody when we walk into a gym because we’re all 5-7, 5-8, we have a couple of 5-11 kids, but even then 5-11 is not that tall in the middle anymore at the high school level. I think by the time the match gets started or halfway through we finally gain respect.”
Said Goodrich coach Robyn Batterbee: “Their offensive is unbelievable. They are hard to stop. I didn’t see any weaknesses ever. We’re a tough-serving team, but we really didn’t have an opportunity throughout the entire match to gain momentum. We didn’t have many opportunities to serve.”
There’s a new coach at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, but the same result.
Former Georgia player and Toledo head coach Karen O’Brien joined Diane Tuller’s staff at St. Mary last year, helping it win its third Class C state championship in five years and fifth overall.
And, O’Brien has guided St. Mary (37-8-1) once again to Kellogg Arena, watching them come back from a 2-1 deficit in games to defeat Brown City, 19-25, 25-15, 19-25, 25-12, 15-9, to move on to Saturday’s noon championship game. It will play Bronson, a 25-18, 25-27, 25-15, 25-23 winner over Traverse City St. Francis.
O’Brien made the necessary adjustments following Game 3 and St. Mary responded with a dominating effort in Game 4, then carried the momentum to close out the match in Game 5.
“In the fourth set we finally said, ‘It’s time to play Kestrels volleyball,’ and I think we showed what we’re capable of doing,” she said.
Six-foot senior outside hitter Skylar Iott, a Miss Volleyball candidate, led the winners with 19 kills, but O’Brien had high praise for 6-1 senior right side hitter Nicole Pollzzie (seven kills) and 5-10 junior middle hitter Merina Poupard (seven kills) for their performance in the final two games.
“She’s been our go-to hitter all along, but we do have five other hitters that contribute,” said O’Brien. “I thought we got a lot of hands on balls blocking-wise and we blocked a whole lot better (in final two games). I think adding Merina (Poupard) and adding Nicole (Pollzzie) to our offense in the fourth and fifth sets, we were hard to stop.
“I thought in that fourth set Merina Poupard started to really hit the ball like she’s capable of and really picked her game up. Nicole (Pollzzie) is another one. I think the atmosphere got to her at the beginning and it took two or three sets or so to calm her down. I think she was a little anxious. When she would transition and start her approach she really wasn’t where she needed to be. We talked about that and said get outside so you have a better angle and a harder approach.”
“We noticed we were being more aggressive (later),” said Iott, who moved from middle hitter last year to the outside. “We weren’t looking for them to make mistakes, but instead making our own points and earning them. I think that’s most important because looking for a team to mess up is no way to win. We definitely want to earn all the wins.”
Junior outside hitter Becki Krause had 21 kills for Brown City (39-9-5).
Romeo d. Livonia Churchill, 23-25, 25-13, 20-25, 25-16, 15-10
Novi d. Grand Rapids Christian, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18
Saturday’s final: 2 p.m.
Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard d. Goodrich, 25-17, 25-9, 25-14
Battle Creek North Branch d. Harper Creek, 25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 29-27
Saturday’s final: 4 p.m.
Bronson d. Traverse City St. Francis, 25-18, 25-27, 25-15, 25-23
Monroe St. Mary Catholic d. Brown City, 19-25, 25-15, 19-25, 25-12, 15-9
Saturday’s final: Noon
Battle Creek St. Philip d. Plymouth Christian, 24-26, 25-23, 25-16, 28-26
Leland d. Crystal Falls Forest Park, 23-25, 27-25, 25-18, 28-26
Saturday’s final: 10 a.m.