No. 6 Wixom St. Catherine sweeps No. 5 Riverview Gabriel Richard to win CHSL C-D volleyball title
WIXOM — When one of the two teams in Wednesday’s battle of ranked, Catholic League unbeatens got quiet, it worried the coach.
Her counterpart on the sideline was a little more used to her own team’s stoic demeanor, and was happy to see some smiles cracked.
After winning the first set of the match against Division 3’s No. 5 team, Riverview Gabriel Richard, 25-20, host Wixom St. Catherine — ranked No. 6 in D2 — ran out to a 9-1 lead in the second set, eventually extending it to 13-1 before the Pioneers fought back.
That’s when Richard coach Sarah Marody-Johnson got a bit nervous.
“We have a lot of strong senior leadership which is why (the momentum) comes back. All season long, the senior leadership — that’s really set the tone. I think when one senior got quiet — that’s the first time I’ve seen that all season. We played (top-ranked) St. Mary’s Catholic Central for a tournament championship, and they never got quiet. This is the first time I’ve seen my seniors get quiet, and every one else followed. And that wasn’t sweet,” Marody-Johnson said.
“I knew they were going to bounce back. We’ve been down in games 8-1, 9-1, so that didn’t worry me. But I think my seniors wanted this so bad that they kept within themselves. Nothing wrong with that — they wanted it that bad. But we know what we need to work on now, so we can battle it out again. We were right there.”
The Pioneers (25-6-2) did rally in the second set, before losing 25-17.
St. Catherine (25-4-1) won the third set, 25-21, to claim the Catholic League’s C-D regular-season title, sweeping through the league season without dropping a single set.
“The main focus for us has been keeping our energy up and keeping control on our side of the net. We just need to clean it up in preparation for districts,” said Malia Gabel, whose team will host the C-D league tournament quarterfinal and semifinal matches next Wednesday. “I’m happy our right side, Emma (Schlagheck), is back. She was concussed, and sick, and a knee injury, so it’s good to have her back on the court. I’m happy we had a little bit of energy tonight. It looked like they were having some fun out there. So that made me happy. Smile, we’re not pulling teeth out here. I’m always happy when we win, but I always know there are things we can work on.”
An honorable mention all-stater last year, Schlagheck led the Stars with 10 kills, while Payton Porter (another honorable mention all-stater) and Madeline Hudson (a Class B honorable mention all-stater with the now-closed Livonia Ladywood) had seven each. Katie Grose had 25 assists and Abby Rutilla 15 digs.
Given the talent they have — which led St. Catherine to its first-ever volleyball final four appearance in Class C last season — there have been times in the league season where the Stars have overmatched opponents, and then suddenly lost the momentum.
So that part wasn’t new when it happened against a ranked Richard squad.
“It’s tough, because we haven’t seen a lot of competition in the season. We only see good competition in tournaments, so it’s tough for them to remain focused against teams that don’t necessarily play up to our level,” Gabel said of the overall trend. “I think we’ve been having a hard time with that.”
The Pioneers got a rare lead in the third set, at 11-10, and hung around the rest of the way, but could never pull away far enough to take a set from the Stars.
Olivia Pellegrini led Richard with 11 kills, while Sydney Kusiak had six kills and two blocks. Bella Kandes had 25 digs and three aces.
Both teams have postseason aspirations once the Catholic League tournament is over, but for the Stars it will be a new challenge. Thanks, in part, to the influx of students after the closing of Ladywood, St. Catherine grew into a Class B school for the first time this year, and will be Division 2 for the postseason.
Last year’s success also put a bit of a target on the backs of the Stars.
“It’s the first time that volleyball had ever won regionals, and to make it all the way to the final four was great. We got a lot of support from the school, the administrators, all the teachers. The rest of the student body came out to support us. It was good to see all the support from everyone,” Gabel said of last year’s run. “It is a lot to live up to, especially when we were in Class C last year, and this year, we got moved up to Division 2, and we have arguably a better team this year, so we do have a lot to live up to. I still think we have a very good shot of making it to states, when we clean up our side a little bit more.”