Battle Creek – Novi showed why it owned the No. 1 ranking all season, putting on an impressive performance in the Class A state volleyball title match Saturday to defeat defending champion Romeo 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 25-17.
The Wildcats (54-2) were on a mission ever since dropping a five-game match to power-hitting Gia Milana and Romeo in last year's state championship.
Milana, a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter, won the Miss Volleyball award earlier this week, but Novi left Kellogg Arena with the ultimate trophy, its first in school history, in the rematch.
"This was so much fun," said senior outside hitter Paulina Iacobelli, who had 20 kills, 12 digs and a .435 hitting percentage. "We've been working so hard for this my whole four years. This team is my family and they mean everything to me. This team is what I'll remember when I leave high school, so to finish this season with that kind of win, I couldn't ask for anything more. It's a dream come true.
"I felt really confident out there, but I couldn't do it without my team. They helped me stay confident throughout the match."
Iacobelli's twin sister, Victoria – who finished second in Miss Volleyball voting – had 13 kills and a .333 hitting percentage, and junior right side hitter Ally Cummings had 17 kills and a .324 hitting percentage. The Wildcats hit at a .317 clip as a team with sophomore setter Erin O'Leary, a Michigan commit, dishing out 47 assists with seven kills, nine digs and five service aces. Sophomore libero Claire Pinkerton had 21 digs.
Novi set the tone in Game 1, jumping out to a 7-1 lead. O'Leary and Victoria Iacobelli each had two aces later in the opener.
"I knew as soon as Thursday was over and Romeo was our opponent that there was a lot of motivation," Victoria Iacobelli said. "We worked hard in practices and we knew that hard work would transfer into games by having fun and staying confident and staying consistent."
Milana finished with 29 kills and a .300 hitting percentage to lead Romeo (48-7-1). She had nine kills in each of the first two games, but was limited to 11 during the final two games.
"Gia is a phenomenal player and pretty much impossible to stop, so we had to have a plan to defend everyone else," said Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill.
While Milana was the lone Romeo hitter with double figures in kills, Novi had three and Cummings was outstanding.
"I think at the beginning of the game we were able to control the ball and Erin really did a nice job of giving her 1-on-1 opportunities," said Cottrill, of O'Leary finding Cummings. "In the second and third sets they started to make some adjustments on her and she made some adjustments as well."
Cummings is thrilled to be a part of Novi's talented lineup.
"I think us having so much players is one of the key factors of why we win because we're able to spread the offense out from pin to pin, and even our middles (Kathryn Ellison, Emmy Robinson) are fantastic," she said. "So the middle from the other team and their blockers can't really select one single hitter to go and block."
Milana, who will play next year at Maryland, was happy to get back to Battle Creek to play in the championship match, especially after getting past what she felt was a more talented Lake Orion team in last week's regional.
"When I was crying (after the match) I was actually crying because I was so happy because I know it was our dream to get here, and last year it was such a privilege to be able to take that trophy home," Milana said. "I'm really happy with how we ended. I mean, Lake Orion was a better team than us and we fought back and won that game.
"I feel they (Wildcats) have really good defense and passing, so that helps their setter spread the ball around, so that's where we had trouble on defense, blocking and getting around those blocks. We didn't have a solid block set up."