VOLLEYBALL: North Branch sweeps Notre Dame Prep to reach Final Four |
BY DAN STICKRADT
PONTIAC — North Branch has ventured along a treacherous path so far this postseason. It has all proven to be worth it.
The second-ranked Bronchos swept host Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Tuesday, 25-18, 25-14, 26-24 in a Class B state quarterfinals matchup to advance to Thursday’s state semifinals against Whitehall at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
It was the fifth quality opponent in six postseason games for North Branch, which has reached at least the quarterfinals round nine times in the past 15 seasons.
“We have beaten a lot of good teams to get his far,” admitted North Branch coach James Fish. “We have beaten four ranked teams, two in the top 10 and two honorable mention teams. We have had a tough road so far and we have never lost in a quarterfinal.”
Notre Dame Prep became North Branch’s latest victim in the Elite Eight.
The Bronchos (68-7-1) never trailed in the first two games and were in control heading into the final set.
The Fighting Irish proved to be the aggressor in Game 3, building leads of 11-7, 22-20 and lastly 23-22. Notre Dame Prep could not hold on to the advantage.
North Branch closed out with a 4-1 run, capped by an ace by Rachel Fish that ended the match.
"We knew they were a quality team, but we thought they hadn't been tested through their region and district and I thought we had," noted Jim Fish. “We have had a difficult road to get here.
“Last season we lost in the regional finals and I know the girls wanted to go further this season,” added Fish. “They have been able to do that. Now we are going to Battle Creek.”
Notre Dame Prep had not seen a state-ranked opponent in nearly a month and North Branch, state champions two seasons ago, was the first ranked foe in its path during the postseason. North Branch had already eliminated two top-10 teams and two others listed as honorable mention in the final regular season coaches association polls.
“We weren't used to the pressure,” said NDP coach Betty Wroubel. “We haven't had a pressure game probably since we played (Farmington Hills) Mercy in the Catholic League semifinals and we didn’t do well in that game either.”
Katherine Carlson slammed 19 kills in 41 attempts to lead Notre Dame Prep and keep the Fighting Irish competitive on the night. Hannah Antosz was 13-for-13 serving with seven service points and Ashley Knutson added 15 assists.
Still, Notre Dame Prep did not play its near-perfect game needed to upset one of Michigan’s premier girls volleyball programs.
"We brought our B-game (unfortunately),” sighed Wroubel. “Part of that was because of the aggressiveness of North Branch. My kids played their hearts out. It wasn't all there and they weren't able to perform some of the skills they usually do. We had to play better to beat a team like that.”
Laura Wilson had 18 kills to lead North Branch. Micaela Deshetsky added 16 kills and was 14-for-14 serving, while both Jamie Barrows (19 assists) and Jazlyn Teichow (16 assists) followed with strong games for the Bronchos.
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)