By: Dan Stickradt
GIRLS VOLLEYBALL CLASS B SEMIFINALS: Top-ranked Pontiac Notre Dame Prep goes to hot hand to motor past Fruitport and reach state finals
BY DAN STICKRADT
BATTLE CREEK — All in an hour’s work and all by reaching out to the hot hand.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep dispatched unranked Fruitport Friday in the Class B state semifinals in the form of a 25-15, 25-9, 25-14 sweep at Kellogg Arena to advance to the state finals for the first time since 2013 and third time overall.
The Irish — ranked as high as 11th in the nation by www.prepvolleyball.com — captured their 52nd straight win and will face third-ranked Lake Odessa Lakewood at 4 p.m. for the state crown.
Natalie Risi finished a sterling 33-for-35 attacking with 19 kills and five service aces and Maddy Chinn was 28-for-29 attacking with 19 kills to lead Notre Dame Prep. Gabby Shilling had four blocks, Lauren Burnick dished out 46 assists and 10 digs, and Taylor Garrigan-Raiola chipped in 12 digs and four kills for the Irish.
“We are pretty confident, but we always have a lot of respect for the other team,” said Risi, who had her biggest game of the postseason. “We play so well together which will help us tomorrow (in the finals).”
Overall, the Irish (63-2-2) finished with 10 aces and were 99-for-108 attacking with 53 total kills as part of their dominating performance thing off the ball.
NDP has not lost since late August and have not dropped a set in one month, always going to the hot hand.
“Natalie was on fire today. You know in warm-ups she was a little off,” smiled veteran NDP coach Betty Wroubel. “We’ll have to take some But all of our hitters are on and our setter kept getting them the ball at the right spot and they kept going to the hot hand. They kept going to our blockers, which gave us the seam, and we were able to put it down. And when it’s someone else that steps up for us in each game, teams have a difficult time blocking us.”
Nicole Bayle, Fruitport’s head coach in her 10th season who coached the Trojans’ state championship teams in 2010 and 2011 and runner-up squad in 2008, was impressed with ND’s multi-tiered attack.
“They have a lot of great players. They are very talented,” she said. “When their run is over, we can look back and say that this is one of the best (Class B) teams we’ve seen in a long time.
“For us, this was a learning experience because we only have one senior and none of these girls were around the last time we got here,” added Bayle. “We hope this will inspire them to get back next year.”
Fruitport (36-18-4) fought even with NDP during the first set, and at one point held a 8-7 lead on the top-ranked Irish. Notre Dame Prep with a 9-3 run for a 16-11.
The Trojans could not get closer than four points the rest of the way in Game 1. Fruitport only led 2-1 in Game 2 and never held the upper hand in Game 3 before finally succumbing to NDP’s powerful front line.
Kylie Oberlin had seven kills, Trinity Busscher had 10 digs and Kailey Carmean 20 assists for Fruitport.
Notre Dame Prep captured state crowns in 2007 and 2013 and lost in the semifinals in 2014. Lake Odessa Lakewood is in the finals for the fourth time in six years — winning in 2012 — and lost to North Branch last season.
“They have been there a lot more than us recently and were in the finals last season, so they have (State finals) experience,” noted Wroubel of Lakewood. “They play great defense, are very well-coached, and they have enough quality hitters if we don’t come ready to play we can get beat. I expect a great match.”