Harper Murray ♦ Junior
Ann Arbor Skyline ♦ Volleyball
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter has led her high school program to its best postseason finishes all-time over the last three seasons and helped her country to fame on the international court as well this fall. Murray’s first three seasons on Skyline’s varsity have coincided with the program’s first three Regional titles in volleyball, including the Eagles’ championship triumph Thursday as she had 26 kills and 20 digs in her team’s five-set win over Brighton. Skyline (53-3-2) advanced to play Northville in one of tonight’s Division 1 Quarterfinals. Murray also was among her team’s leading hitters as a freshman in 2019 as Skyline reached the Division 1 Semifinals – her older sister Kendall, now playing at Michigan, was a Miss Volleyball Award candidate that fall – and the Eagles just missed returning to the Semifinals last season with a five-set Quarterfinal loss.
An all-state first-team selection last season and third-teamer as a freshman, Murray is widely-regarded as one of the nation’s top juniors. Despite spending two weeks this season playing with USA Volleyball’s under-18 national team – she helped it to bronze at the FIVB World Championships in Mexico – Murray has totaled 583 kills over 108 games this fall with a .560 kill percentage and .451 hitting percentage, and she also has 77 aces. She has committed to sign with national power Nebraska, which is ranked No. 11 this week by the American Volleyball Coaches Association and won the most recent of its five Division I championships in 2017.
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Nov. 11: Abby VanderKooi, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian - Report
Nov. 4: Arianne Olson, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Oct. 28: Jack Guggemos, Okemos soccer - Report
Oct. 21: Sachiv Kumar, Northville tennis - Report
Oct. 14: Kate Brody, Grand Blanc golf - Report
Oct. 7: Lilly Nelson, Negaunee tennis - Report
Sept. 30: Stella Chapman, Ann Arbor Pioneer swimming - Report
Sept. 23: Riley Hough, Hartland cross country - Report
Sept. 16: Josie Bloom, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Report
PHOTOS courtesy of Terry Jacoby/We Love Ann Arbor (top) and the Skyline volleyball program.
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.