North Branch continues fine tradition, wins another Class B title
(Photo by Hockey Weekly | MHSAA Network)
Battle Creek - North Branch’s road to the state championship was paved with challenges.
The third-ranked Bronchos defeated their third top five team in less than two weeks on Saturday at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, this time sweeping top-ranked Lake Odessa-Lakewood, 3-0, to capture the Class B state title.
North Branch (58-9-0) took down the Vikings 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 to win their third state title in six trips to the finals. The Bronchos also won in 2009 and 2014. They lost in 2010, 2012 and 2015 finals.
“What a run the last couple of weeks,” North Branch coach James Fish said.
The Bronchos defeated No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (regional semifinals), No. 5 Buchanan (state semifinals) and Lakewood.
“We beat the No. 1 team in the state — and they deserved their ranking with the type of season they had,” Fish said. “Lakewood was nationally ranked and beating up on a lot of very good teams. I think I saw something in our player’s eyes before this game. They were as focused as I’ve seen them all season. To beat the No. 1 team in the state in three games describes just how well they played.”
North Branch lost in the final to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard last season. Sophomore Allyson Severance and her teammates more than remembered that crushing defeat.
“We knew what it was like last year. We just worked so hard every day to get back here and win it this season,” said Severance. “We wanted this really bad.”
The underdog role suited North Branch just fine this time around.
“Last year we lost to a better team to be honest,” added Fish. “This year I believed we had a chance if we played well. This might have been the best match that we played all season.
“I told the assistant coaches before the game that the No. 1 team in the state didn’t lose in the other three state finals. In Class D, Class C and Class A, they all won,” Fish said. “We didn’t want that to happen in all four games.”
Lakewood coach Kellie Rowland felt that North Branch’s size was too much to overcome.
“When you get here (to the Final Four) everyone is really good. It often goes down to size and if a team uses it to their advantage,” Rowland said. “We are not the biggest team around and I thought that North Branch had a size advantage on us. That gave us a lot of problems. When we beat them in 2012, we had more size than North Branch and I thought that was the difference in the finals that year.”
Breanna Wickerink had 11 kills for Lakewood. Alivia Benedict added eight kills and Gable Shellenbarger chipped in with 23 assists for the Vikings.
“I’m still proud of my team, even though we came up a little short,” added Rowland. “North Branch is a very good team with a lot of (good players).”
After North Branch led for most of Game 1, sans an early 3-0 deficit, Lakewood built leads of 10-7 and 12-10 in Game 2. The Vikings (54-5-0) could never gain the momentum back after North Branch went on a 5-0 run for a 15-12 lead.
In Game 3, North Branch built a comfortable 16-8 advantage. The closest Lakewood would get was 20-17.
Severance had 12 kills to pace North Branch. Olivia Fike added seven kills, including the match-winner, Madee Miner chipped in with 33 assists and Stephaney Fifield scooped up 17 digs for the Broncos.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Remember to watch the highlights from this game on the STATE CHAMPS! HS Sports Show, Sunday morning at 9:00 am on Fox Sports Detroit!