GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Notre Dame Prep outlasts North Branch in quarterfinals thriller to reach Final Four

   | Dan Stickradt

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PONTIAC — On its journey to the 2007 Class B girls volleyball state championship, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep was rarely tested. If the Fighting Irish are to claim another state crown this season, they’ll certainly look back to Tuesday’s marathon thriller.

Notre Dame Prep, the top-ranked team in Class B, outlasted No. 3 North Branch, 3-2, in a match that lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, and had more twists and turns than a mountain road.

Notre Dame Prep (60-2-1) captured Game 1 (25-15) and Game 2 (25-21), only to see the Bronchos take Game 3 (25-14) and Game 4 (25-23). In Game 5, Notre Dame Prep overcame being faced with elimination eight times before scoring the game’s final two points to prevail 24-22.

“When we won it all in ’07, we only lost one set. We never had a game like this in that (title run),” recalled veteran Notre Dame Prep coach Betty Wrubel. “This was an incredible le win. We just had that will to win.”

Notre Dame Prep advances to the state semifinals Friday at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, where the Irish will face No. 2 Wayland Union at 7:15 p.m. Fifth-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian and seventh-ranked Cadillac will face off in the 5:30 p.m. semifinal.

North Branch, which finished 60-7-3, defeated Notre Dame Prep in last year’s regional finals, but came agonizingly short this time around. In the Game 5 tiebreaker, the Bronchos held a 21-20 lead, the team’s eighth one-point advantage after a 14-13 lead, but could not finish off the Irish.

“In a game like this … we left it all out on the floor. That’s all you can ask of them,” admitted North Branch coach James Fish. “They kept coming back on us. We had them eight times (at match point in Game 5) and couldn’t get the game-winner. That’s a credit to them.”

Dani McCormick, Notre Dame Prep’s 6-foot-2 senior middle, said her team never lost confidence, even when faced with a point away from elimination.

“We kept up our hope. We knew we just had to keep playing defense and we would find a way to win,” smiled McCormick. “Each time they had us (in Game 5), we scored a point to tie it. We finally took the lead and won it. What a way to get to the (Final Four) as a senior. If couldn’t have been any closer.”

McCormick had 29 kills in the match, while junior Katherine Carlson added 29 kills, including seven kills in Game 1, to go along with 30 digs. Jenna Sassack added 15 kills, while Elen Guerra added eight kills and Hannah Antosz chipped in with 38 assists and Ashley Knutson had 33 assists for NDP.

The Irish dominated long stretches of the first two