BATTLE CREEK – Grand Rapids Christian volleyball coach Tiffannie Gates said she knew Lake Odessa Lakewood wanted another crack at her team in this season’s Division 2 Final.
Lakewood earned that opportunity, but it was the Eagles who walked out of Kellogg Arena as champions.
Grand Rapids Christian defeated Lakewood 25-20, 25-20, 25-19 Saturday to claim its third-straight Finals title.
“I think each year has had its own special meaning to me as a coach with these championships,” Gates said. “This year, with this group of seniors, has a very special place in my heart – they all do – but they’ve been here, most of them, from Day 1 as freshmen. Just to see their determination to social distance and not go to parties and make sure they could get to this day, you don’t see that very often from kids this age. It really moved me.
“Our message today in the locker room was love each other above all else, and if we do that, we’re going to be fine.”
It’s the third title in as many Finals trips for the Grand Rapids Christian program – and second straight against Lakewood – and after the match, the players were sporting shirts that had been made up for the occasion, which read, “Our tweets 3-peat.”
“I can’t even really put it into words right now, I don’t think,” Grand Rapids Christian senior Lauren Peal said. “It’s still kind of setting in that that just happened, if I’m being honest. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of the love from our teammates every single year, and the support that we have for each other. How we go into this game is 100 percent loving on each other and being there for each other the whole entire time. That whole entire game, we were playing for each other. I think that over any other feeling is what comes out of this, the overwhelming feeling of love you have during this game.”
Lakewood coach Cameron Rowland said it was Grand Rapids Christian’s multi-dimensional attack that gave his team problems, specifically the contributions from middle hitters Stephanie Stewart and Kate Breems, who had nine and four kills, respectively.
Much of the credit for that goes to setter Alyssa DeVries, who had 43 assists while spreading the ball around the court.
“I think she had the best match of her season tonight,” Gates said. “She had big shoes to fill, and she came in and she worked her butt off. We did extra practice with her every day of the regular season. She transformed into a completely different player from the first day until today. I am extremely proud of her.”
Addie VanderWeide led the Eagles’ attack with 19 kills, while Evie Doezema had 16. Peal added 17 digs, while VanderWeide had 11.
It was VanderWeide and Doezema that Rowland said he was expecting to have to deal with, and while they had strong matches, the rest of the Eagles’ attack was enough to get his team off rhythm.
“When we got the ball to the net to (Lakewood setter Skylar Bump), they served really, really well so we were scrambling a little more than we were used to,” Rowland said. “We’ve been the team that’s been in system all year, and they kind of took that away from us with their ability to do what they did from the service line.”
Aubrey O’Gorman led Lakewood with 17 kills, while Maradith O’Gorman added eight kills and 15 digs. Bump had 23 assists and 14 digs, and Carley Piercefield had 14 digs.
“I’m just so incredibly honored to play in a program that is able to get to this point every single year, year after year,” Aubrey O’Gorman said. “It has been established that we will be here in November every single year – or January – and I’m just so incredibly honored to be a part of that.”
PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Lakewood blockers defend against a Grand Rapids Christian kill attempt Saturday night at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Maradith O’Gorman keeps a ball in play for the Vikings. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.