By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – Betty Wroubel is closing in on 1,000 victories at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.
Victory No. 990 always will be special. It gave her a third MHSAA Finals title at the school since 2007.
The win came Saturday at the Class B Final against Lake Odessa Lakewood, last year’s runner-up to North Branch, in a 25-16, 25-17, 28-26 sweep at Kellogg Arena.
It was Notre Dame’s 53rd win in a row, as the team finished the season 64-2-2.
“If you noticed, the newspapers they stopped printing how many we had won in a row because the pressure was starting to get to the girls,’’ said Wroubel. “It is very impressive. They worked hard for that. If you had been at our practices this last week, we were working as hard as we did in August. Kudos to them.
“They are great kids. They are great volleyball players and better people. My two four-year seniors, Lauren Burnick and Gabby Shilling, suffered a disappointing loss their sophomore year. It was at that point they said it’s never going to happen again. We’re going to win a state title before we graduate. They led us.’’
The game featured two longstanding coaches in Wroubel, in her 24th year at the school but fourth decade on the sideline overall, and Kellie Rowland in her 23rd season leading the Vikings and with 1,028 victories under her belt.
When top-ranked Notre Dame defeated No. 2 North Branch in the Regional Final, many thought the winner would claim the Class B title.
It worked out that way.
With an athletic front line, the Fighting Irish established themselves early, building a 21-15 lead against the Vikings that was never threatened.
The loud pops heard throughout the arena were the sounds of the Fighting Irish hitters spiking the ball against the smaller Vikings.
Notre Dame’s lineup featured Shilling, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter; 6-2 outside hitter Madeline Chinn; 6-foot outside hitter and setter Natalie Risi and 5-11 Morgan Verheyen.
That trend continued in the second game as the Fighting Irish jumped out to a 16-10 lead, using its superiority at the net to frustrate the Vikings.
Facing elimination, the Vikings (47-6-2) were more competitive in the third game.
They extended a lead to 15-9 as the Fighting Irish were reeling for the first time.
But Notre Dame quickly turned matters in its favor, scoring nine of the next 11 points to retake the lead at 18-17.
Now trailing 21-19 Rowland had to take a timeout to regroup.
Lake Odessa fought to a tie at 23-23, forcing Wroubel to call a timeout.
The score would deadlock three more times before Risi killed the final two points of the match and this Michigan high school volleyball season.
Risi had 17 kills for Notre Dame Prep, and Shilling 12. Burnick had 42 assists.
“We went into every game thinking if we trusted the process, trust the basics, we’d come out with this win,’’ said Fighting Irish junior Maria Famularo. “Our two seniors that have been on the varsity for four years have done an amazing job welcoming us.’’
Seniors Breanna Wickerink and Alivia Benedict capped strong careers for Lakewood with 10 kills apiece. Senior setter Kayla Sauers closed with 32 assists.
PHOTOS: (Top) Notre Dame Prep’s Gabrielle Schilling (9) and Maddy Chinn (16) put up a strong block as a Lakewood hitter begins her swing. (Middle) The Fighting Irish’s Morgan Verheyen prepares to connect.