BATTLE CREEK – Tiffannie Gates couldn’t hold back the tears Saturday.
The Grand Rapids Christian volleyball coach had just watched her team win a second-straight Division 2 title, sweeping Lake Odessa Lakewood 25-21, 25-15, 25-16, which is emotional enough. She also had just finished her last game as coach of her daughter, Jordyn, who shined in her final game as an Eagle.
“It’s really bittersweet right now to think I’m done coaching her,” Tiffannie Gates said. “You couldn’t ask for a better ending. It’s been pretty neat.”
The Grand Rapids Christian program closed out an incredible run with another dominant showing at Kellogg Arena, sweeping the No. 2 team in the Final for the second straight year. The top-ranked Eagles actually swept both matches at Kellogg, also just like a year ago – defeating Kingsley in the Semifinal – and finished 46-3, dropping just 10 sets all season.
All while carrying around the target that comes with being the reigning champion.
“Every team came to play against us,” junior outside hitter Addison VanderWeide said. “No matter who they were, they came to play their best volleyball. We definitely felt that, but we were able to push through and stay on top.”
At the center of it was Jordyn, a Miss Volleyball finalist who will play at Arkansas next season. The 5-foot-10 senior setter came into the weekend with more than 1,000 assists on the season, and finished Saturday’s match with 39 assists, 13 digs and six kills.
For her, it was also a bittersweet moment.
“It was really emotional this morning, last time ever being coached by her,” Jordyn said. “She’s my biggest inspiration. Being able to play for her and having her coaching me and pushing me every single day. Even today she was still telling me things I needed to work on. It never stopped. She’s definitely my biggest inspiration, so it’s been awesome sharing this journey with her.”
Jordyn spread the ball around enough to keep Lakewood off balance Saturday night, as Ayva Kooistra and Evelyn Doezema each had six kills. But it was clear that VanderWeide was her main target, and she came through in a big way. VanderWeide had 28 kills on 55 attack attempts for a .436 attack percentage.
“I even knew before we even showed up that she was going to have the game of her life,” Jordyn said. “She was fired up and I knew to just dish the ball to Addi, she’s the girl on fire. Keep dishing it to her no matter what, she’s who we have to dish it to, and she was unstoppable tonight. I’m so proud of her.”
Lakewood (40-13) did come out strong, building a 13-9 lead in the first set. But Grand Rapids Christian responded to close out the set before controlling much of the rest of the match.
“Our strength this year has just been playing very evenly – not getting too high or too low,” Tiffannie Gates said. “I just said, ‘You know what, you’re fine. We’re just going to go out there and play defense and serve tough and pass well and focus on your game, one point at a time.’ That’s been our motto all season, one point at a time. Don’t project, ‘What if we don’t win? We’re supposed to win.’ So we’re really trying to focus on the one point at a time.”
Tiffannie Gates said the goal for the Eagles coming into the match was to try and slow down the O’Gorman sisters. While they did have some success, the plan worked for the most part. Aubrey O’Gorman led Lakewood with 11 kills on the night, while Maradith O’Gorman had 10 kills and 10 digs. Skylar Bump added 25 assists for the Vikings.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Christian’s Addison VanderWeide (14) launches a kill attempt during Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Evelyn Doezema tips the ball over the block of Lakewood’s Jaizah Pyle.
BATTLE CREEK – Natasha Bickel had an up-close look the last time North Branch won a Finals volleyball title. As a ball girl, she was able to watch the Broncos take home a championship at Kellogg Arena.
On Saturday, Bickel got to experience being on the court to win one.
“I remember when I was a ball girl one of the years we won states (2016) and one of the years we didn’t,” Bickel, a senior middle hitter, said. “Except for last year, we haven’t really came this far. Coming back here, being in the Finals and winning it? It put the cherry on top.”
Bickel and the Broncos defeated Cadillac 31-29, 25-18, 25-17 in the Division 2 Final. It was the fourth title for the program, and first since 2016.
“We put a lot into this,” Bickel said. “We’ve poured our lives into this sport. It’s really awesome. This was our goal since we were little. As we were going up every year we were pushing for it, and last year we came so, so close to doing it. We added a freshman and she’s amazing, and everybody is healthy this year. It was just really, really awesome.
North Branch was the Division 2 runner-up a year ago, losing to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the Final. The Broncos downed the Irish in the Regional Final this year, and didn’t drop a set the rest of the way, sweeping Mount Morris in the Quarterfinal and Grand Rapids South Christian in the Semifinal.
So it may have caught some off guard when Cadillac had some early success Saturday night.
Cadillac had North Branch (53-7) on the ropes quickly, jumping out to a 16-9 lead in the first set and forcing the Broncos to take a pair of timeouts over a five-point span.
Vikings middle hitter Carissa Musta, who stands 6-foot-4, was a major reason for that. She had three straight blocks, four total, and two kills during a 10-point run.
While North Branch scrambled to find a way to hit around her, it struggled to get into its offense, and went down 10 before starting to dig out.
“I just said, keep battling guys, keep battling,” North Branch coach Jim Fish said. “That’s the mark of a good team that they’re not going to give up. We didn’t panic, which was good. That’s a huge comeback.”
When the Broncos did dig out, it led to an epic end of the set. North Branch fought off eight Cadillac set points before finally taking the lead back at 29-28.
Freshman Aubree Deshetsky, who kept the Broncos alive initially with four straight high-pressure serves, had the final three kills of the set to put it away. She had eight kills total in the set.
“Aubree Deshetsky’s a stud,” Fish said. “She’s a stud, she does a lot for our team. We had everybody back, and she forced her way into our lineup. She’s just a great player. She’s going to be heard for the next three years.”
While the first-set defeat could have been a back-breaker for a Cadillac team looking to pull an upset, it did not wilt. The Vikings stood toe-to-toe with the Broncos in the second set, despite playing from behind for nearly all of it.
Cadillac (34-11-4) even tied the set at 18 before Bickel helped North Branch rattle off the final seven points to take it. Bickel had three kills in the final stretch, showing off power and finesse in the process.
The Broncos flexed their muscle in the third set, building a 20-8 lead with eight straight points – seven on Bickel’s serve. Her block then put North Branch a point away, and the match was won on a service error.
“If we could have just gotten one of those set points (in the first set), who knows what would have happened,” Cadillac coach Michelle Brines said. “I was really proud of my team, because I don’t know that people gave us much of a chance at all. And, we just played really tough. We played pretty tough for the first set and a half, then it kind of seemed like we were running out of steam a little bit and they were asserting their will.”
Deshetsky finished with 13 kills and 14 digs for the Broncos, while Clara Gyomory had 12 kills and Bickel had 11. Alana Deshetsky finished with nine kills and 22 digs, Hailey Green had 25 digs and Adrienne Greschaw had 45 assists for the Broncos.
Musta led Cadillac with 16 kills and seven blocks. Brooke Ellens had 23 digs, and Cassie Jenema had 30 assists and 17 digs.
PHOTOS (Top) North Branch celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. (Below) Cadillac’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block.