Grand Rapids Christian wins first D2 title, beating defending champion Notre Dame Prep in its first championship match appearance
BATTLE CREEK — Grand Rapids Christian can finally call itself a state champion.
The Eagles, the top-ranked school in the newly-created Division 2, captured their first state title in their first championship game appearance with a convincing victory Saturday night at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
Grand Rapids Christian ended its dream season with a rare 3-0 sweep of second-ranked Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the state finals.
The Fighting Irish captured the Class B state title in 2007, 2013 and 2017 and featured Miss Volleyball Maddy Chinn and a host of future college players. But not even that potent firepower could slow Grand Rapids Christian’s arsenal of hitters.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years and we’ve come close to being here (in the finals) a couple of times. But we never could get to the final game until this season. We put it all together this time,” smiled Grand Rapids Christian coach Tiffannie Gates, who was in her eighth season as head coach after serving as an assistant for five seasons.
“We knew we had the talent and some projected us to be here and we knew Notre Dame Prep was a great team,” added Gates. “We talked about playing with no fear. Just play aggressive and play to win and not worry about the outcome.”
Grand Rapids Christian still posted the 25-19, 25-18, 25-21 victory over perennial state powerhouse Notre Dame Prep — keeping the Fighting Irish on their heels for most of the night.
“That’s been our thing all year, coming out fast with our offense,” said Gates. “I saw them move Maddy (Chinn) to the outside and we had to stop their other outside hitters. We did a great job passing where we could run them out of the middle and avoid (Chinn’s) big block. That worked for us. We knew that (Chinn and Natalie) Risi were their big guns and we had to concentrate on stopping them without completely bailing on their other hitters. We did a good job of not letting them get into any type of rhythm. We thought we would go with the odds and defending their outside, where (those two) were and I thought we did a great job.
“We went out and played a really tough schedule this year, so we saw some teams with two really good hitters.” added Gates. “We were prepared for it.”
Grand Rapids Christian held a 10-7 lead in Game 1 and never allowed NDP to get any closer than 12-11.
In the second set, the Eagles trailed 5-4 early, but went on a 4-1 run to open up a 8-6 advantage and maintained the lead throughout the rest of the set.
In the clinching third set, Grand Rapids Christian had a 2-0 lead and never relinquished the advantage. The lead grew to as big as 11-4 and left the Fighting Irish quite rattled.
Notre Dame Prep had swept its previous six tournament foes and carried a 60-game unbeaten streak into the state finals.
Veteran Notre Dame Prep coach Betty Wroubel was at a loss of words for the crushing defeat. Over the past 15 seasons, her Irish were rarely swept on the court, even in postseason losses to other powerhouse programs in that span.
“We were a little off today,” sighed Wroubel. “It seemed like every time we made a little run at them, we would turn around with an unforced error that gave them the ball back. I’m still proud of my kids. We’ve had an awesome season. A lot of teams wished they were here. It’s an end of an era with our three seniors. They have meant a lot to us. That’s the saddest part, losing them.”
Maria Bos finished 43-for-47 attacking with a match-high 21 kills for Grand Rapids Christian. Jordy Gates added 38 assists and 29 digs, Addie VanderWeide slammed 17 kills and nine digs and Lauren Peal added eight digs for the Eagles (46-5-0).
“We returned a lot of players and only had to fill two starters spots, so the chemistry was there,” said Bos. “We had some new players and it was a little slow at first, but when we had a ton of returnees it made it easier,” said Bos. “We were really pointing towards this year and finally did it. My sophomore year we lost in the districts and last year we lost in the (state) quarterfinals. We really wanted to get here and try to win it this season.”
Grand Rapids Christian lost in the districts to East Grand Rapids in both 2015 and 2016 and were knocked out by DeWitt in last year’s Class A quarterfinals. The Eagles landed in Division 2 this season after the MHSAA opted to go with four equal divisions instead of enrollment classes this season for the first time.
“It was our year,” added Bos.
Chinn, headed to Purdue, recorded 17 kills for the Irish while Risi contributed 14 kills, 12 digs and two aces for NDP, which recorded an uncharacteristic 17 attacking errors over three sets. Maria Famularo had 14 assists and 14 digs, while Aly Borellis had 12 assists and nine digs for the Irish, who made their fourth Final Four visit in 11 seasons.
“Their offense is a little bit quicker than what we’ve seen and our middles were a little bit inexperienced,” added Wroubel. “They do have a lot of hitters. They got a lot of (points off errors) where we lost some points. I thought our inexperience showed where we lost those balls, where we shanked them and gave them points and they attacked us. I think we can play with them, but we didn’t play our best and we didn’t play our best defensively. We didn’t serve as well as we normally do. A team like Grand Rapids Christian will make you pay for mistakes.”