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Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard favored to win school's first state title since 1991

Volleyball   | Jeff Dullack

State Champs! Sports Network

Ann Arbor – After advancing to the regional finals in 2013, and capturing a regional title the following season, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard opened this season with high expectations, looking to take another step toward a Class B title.

The state tournament begins this week and the Fighting Irish are seeking to achieve those expectations.

Gabriel Richard concluded the regular season last week with a sparkling 34-0 record and is the state’s top-ranked team according the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association.

On the heels of the success of the previous two years, Mayssa Bazzi, in her third season as head coach, said that her team is looking to advance further this season.

“In my first year here, we made it to the regional finals for the first time in 20 years,” she said. “The second year, we won the region, but lost in the state quarterfinals, I think we got a little shell shocked because we hadn’t been there before.”

On Oct. 26 Gabriel Richard won the school’s first Catholic League A-D Division title by defeating Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in four sets.

The Irish are led by Miss Volleyball candidate, Emily Tanski, and other seniors such as Sydney Burton and Rachel Dunlavy.

Other key contributors come from the junior class; outside hitters Jurnee Tipton and Jesse Fannon and middle-hitter India Woods.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Tipton, who recorded 20 kills in the league final. “I’m still not comprehending it yet. We went into the season just wanting to have fun, but I don’t think any of us really expected to be the only undefeated team in Michigan, but it’s been great.”

Gabriel Richard made perhaps its biggest statement of the season when it won the Novi and Beast of the East tournaments. The Irish earned impressive victories over the top-ranked team in Class A, Novi, as well as several other highly ranked teams.

“They are great friends, the chemistry is awesome, on the court and off the court,” Bazzi said of her team. “They’re great kids. They’re smart, they work hard and the level of respect that they show each other and (the coaches), I’ve never witnessed this level of respect on a team.

“They’re great kids and they have a common goal, there’s not a single selfish person on this team.”

Entering the postseason Gabriel Richard will have a target on its back after a dominant regular season.

Tanski, who is committed to New Hampshire, said that her and her teammates are somewhat surprised by this year’s success, but added that the pressure and expectations have fueled them all season.

“It’s been surreal,” she said. “It’s been a surprise, going into the season, I had no idea or couldn’t tell anyone that we were going to go undefeated. But I think we’ve been striving with the pressure and it’s been something key for our team and our success.”

While Gabriel Richard hasn’t dealt with losing a game this season, Bazzi said that it’s not something that she’s concerned about because her team’s difficult schedule has prepared them well for the playoffs.

“I know we haven’t lost,” she said. “But we’ve had quite a few teams this season that have pushed us and I know that sometimes you have to lose once or twice to get you refocused, but I think we’ve had so many close matches in the last few weeks and faced enough teams that, even though they’ve resulted in wins, that have pushed us enough to where I don’t know that we necessarily need a loss going into the playoffs.”