PONTIAC – The Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Fighting Irish defeated the North Branch Broncos 25-20, 25-19, and 25-23 to sweep their way into the Division 2 Quarterfinals.
Neither team could put together much of a long run in any of the games as the teams went back and forth all night. Notre Dame Prep started slowly in each game, with North Branch taking the early lead in each game. And in each game, the Broncos would hold onto the lead a little bit longer each time. But in the end, the Fighting Irish’s superior depth would find a way to take over the game and secure the victory.
“The difference is their kids play year round at a high level, and they can make plays when they’re not in system. Our kids don’t, and we struggled with that,” Broncos head coach James Fish said.
North Branch was paced by their Miss Volleyball candidate Allyson Severance, who led the Broncos with 21 kills. But no one else had more than seven kills for the Broncos.
On the other side, Notre Dame had multiple weapons all night and seemed to just feed the hot hand. Miss Volleyball candidates Maddy Chinn (23 kills) and Natalie Risi (19 kills), along with fellow senior Maria Famularo (26 assists) all had strong games.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my three seniors. They are terrific seniors, great leaders. We have five freshmen out there normally, and those seniors have embraced the freshmen and helped teach them what the culture is like at Notre Dame Prep volleyball,” Fighting Irish head coach Betty Wroubel said. “They work hard. They’re not afraid of hard work. Some kids are afraid of the work it takes to be this successful. Those kids embrace it, and they’re going to do well as they move on to their colleges.”
Notre Dame’s younger players also chipped in. In particular, the Fighting Irish got strong all around games from freshman hitter Alyssa Borellis and from sophomore libero Olivia Kowalkowski.
“We figure teams are going to double and scheme to stop Risi and Chinn. So we’ve been working really hard, and the players have worked really hard to develop shots,” Wroubel said. “We’ve been working behind the scenes to make sure they were ready for this moment, and they stepped up on the stage and did a great job.”
The match-up between Notre Dame Prep and North Branch has become a playoff staple in recent years with teams routinely meeting in the regionals. Each of the last two years, the winning team has gone on to win the state title.
“I don’t know how many times out of the last ten, but it’s been a lot,” Wroubel said. “It’s always a match that’s a toss-up. It’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes. Both teams have very good players. Severance is lights out. Their setter does a terrific job, and their libero did a great job. They play great team defense, and kudos to them.”
With the win, Notre Dame Prep improves to 62-5 overall. The defending state champion Fighting Irish have not lost since late August and will carry a 52 match winning streak into next Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Detroit Communication Arts.