Battle Creek — Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard made history Saturday at Kellogg Arena, sweeping defending champion North Branch 25-21, 25-14, 25-19 in Class B state volleyball to become the first champion with an unbeaten record since Fraser in 2002.
And, Gabriel Richard (42-0) did it in style, going through the postseason without losing a game. They had lost just six games all season and defeated a 55-2 Novi team that won the Class A state championship earlier in the day.
Gabriel Richard took the natural progression, advancing to the regional title game in 2013, then winning a regional title last year before falling in the state quarterfinals.
Well, Gabriel Richard won the state quarterfinal this season, then swept past Goodrich once the team advanced to Battle Creek in a semifinal Friday.
“It’s something I will remember the rest of my life and I’m sure all the girls will as well,” said third-year coach Mayssa Bazzi of the unbeaten state championship. “It’s surreal and I don’t know if it’s quite hit me yet.
“There’s been a little more pressure after each match this season. It just kept building and building and building, but the biggest thing is the composure of this team. I don’t think we take the pressure on the court with us. I think once we’re on the court the girls are in their element.”
Despite the sweep of Goodrich, Bazzi wanted to see more out of her 5-foot-8 junior outside hitter Jurnee Tipton, saying she didn’t see her powerful swing. She certainly saw it in the title match, as did spectators who had to protect themselves after the ball deflected off North Branch players.
Tipton, who is being recruited by Michigan State and several other schools, finished with 26 kills and a phenomenal .658 hitting percentage. She also had 11 digs. Senior outside hitter Emily Tanski had 23 kills (.291 hitting percentage) and 14 digs and senior middle blocker Sydney Burton, six kills (.364). Gabriel Richard hit at a .407 clip with junior setter Emma Nowak dishing out 50 assists.
“That’s Jurnee, that’s her powerful swing,” Bazzi said. “There was not a doubt in my mind she would show up today. She’s really been taking charge all season."
Tanksi said the team surpassed her expectations.
“It’s unreal,” Tanski said. “At the beginning of the season saying we were going to win the state title I thought was unrealistic. My team has like blown the expectations so far off the roof and I’m so thankful for that.
“I felt beating Novi in our second tournament of the season was a big confidence boost, but beating Grand Rapids Christian in the Beast of the East (late in regular season), after we won that tournament I knew this team was special and we’d go all the way.”
Tanski just wanted to take the Kellogg Arena court Saturday and leave with special memories. And, she knows Tipton was a reason she will leave with those memories.
“This morning I woke up and I said this is the last time I’m going to play with this team and we shared that with each other before we played and we said once your head gets in it the heart gets in it, and this game is all about the heart,” Tanski said. “I’m just so blessed for Jurnee because in past seasons there was a lot of pressure for me as a hitter and she’s come such a long way in her power and her mental game is so there this year.”
North Branch coach James Fish felt his team played well.
“Tipton and Tanski (were outstanding), they just jumped over top of us,” said Fish, whose team finished 57-11-2. “We gave them other people, hoping they would set other people and they didn’t. We knew where these kids were going to be so give them credit.
“I felt we played great, maybe the best we’ve played all year. I thought my kids played well, delivering a fight. We battled all the way. I’ve been in this a long time and that’s one of the best teams I’ve seen. They are just really good.”
Fish still couldn’t keep his mind off of Tipton, saying, “Tipton, my goodness … at .658 and we knew the ball was going to her and we still couldn’t stop her.”