Novi volleyball hangs tough in earning return trip to Battle Creek

No. 7 Novi (28-4-1) will face No. 3 Lowell on Friday at 6:30…

Novi volleyball hangs tough in earning return trip to Battle Creek
Novi volleyball hangs tough in earning return trip to Battle Creek 1

David Goricki
| The Detroit News

Novi coach Kacy Byron admitted she was highly stressed in the final minutes of her team’s dramatic state quarterfinal volleyball win over Ann Arbor Skyline on Tuesday night.

And, for good reason since Novi was just a point away from having its season come to a close, trailing the fifth and deciding game 16-15 and 17-16 before pulling out a 22-25, 29-27, 25-21, 18-25, 19-17 win in a match which lasted 2 hours, 5 minutes.

“I honestly think that I blacked out,” Byron said of the final seconds. “When you’re down in the fifth set, really match point the odds significantly go down (against you), but we made some big time plays and showed how mentally tough we are.

“The girls gave up so much these last few months (with stoppage due to COVID-19 pandemic) and this means a lot to them. I feel that this type of effort is what’s needed going to Battle Creek, you know, where the kids are never too high or too low, where they show they’re mentally tough and never seem rattled.”

State semifinals will be played at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek on Thursday (Divisions 2 and 3) and Friday (Divisions 1 and 4) with title matches in all four classes Saturday.

No. 7 Novi (28-4-1) will face No. 3 Lowell in a Division 1 state semifinal on Friday at 6:30 p.m., or following the 4:30 semifinal between No. 2 Birmingham Marian and unranked Clarkston.

No doubt, this Novi team is now Byron’s since she is in her third year as head coach. Jennifer Cottrill guided Novi to three straight Class A state championships from 2015-17 with setter Erin O’Leary leading the way.

Rachel Jennings, a senior libero, played in that state championship win back in ’17. Jennings has multiple talented players around her, including senior outside hitter Gaby Cummings, senior middle blockers Megha Gondi and Carleigh Robinson, sophomore outside hitter Sarah Vellucci and junior setter/right side hitter Rachel Karr.

It was Vellucci who had two aces to help turn a Game 5 11-8 deficit into a 12-11 lead, then had a tip kill for an 18-17 lead, followed by Karr’s kill to close out the match and start a wild celebration.

“The biggest thing about this team is their mental toughness and grit and how well we play as a team; it wasn’t just one or two players, but a full team effort,” Byron said. “To be down a few points in a fifth set and come back like that and win is really, really cool. People had counted us out and anything can happen in Battle Creek.”

No. 2 Birmingham Marian will be the favorite, defeating defending state champion Farmington Hills Mercy in the regionals, then defeating sweeping Macomb Dakota in a state quarterfinal.

Notre Dame Prep in fourth straight Final Four

Betty Wroubel has built Pontiac Notre Dame Prep into one of the most consistent programs in the state, earning Class B state championships in 2007, 2013 and 2017  and  losing the Division 2 state title match to Grand Rapids Christian in 2018.

Notre Dame Prep swept Warren Regina 25-14, 25-13, 25-20 in a Division 2 state quarterfinal Tuesday to earn its fourth straight trip to Battle Creek.

No. 4 Notre Dame Prep (37-9) will face No. 2 Lake Odessa Lakewood in a state semifinal Thursday at 4:30, followed by a 6:30 semifinal between No. 1 Grand Rapids Christian and No. 3 Cadillac.

Grand Rapids Christian defeated Lakewood in last year’s state title match. Lakewood defeated Notre Dame Prep in a state semifinal.

“I thought we played well after a two-month layoff, used a balanced attack and a tenacious defense to keep Regina out of system for much of the evening,” Wroubel said. “The setters did a terrific job at distributing the ball to keep the Regina defense off guard and the offense seldom missed.”

Junior setter/right side hitter Aly Borellis, a Mississippi commit, hit at an incredible .750 clip with 13 kills, nine service points, 16 assists and 11 digs while senior libero Livy Kowalkowski (nine points, including six aces, 17 serve receptions, 15 digs), sophomore setter Margo Sudzina (12 points, 20 assists), junior outside hitters Bianca Giglio (eight kills, three blocks) and Sara Nouhan (seven kills, four digs), sophomore middle hitter Grace Wenaas (seven kills, three blocks) and junior defensive specialist Josie Bloom also playing well.

“This is the first time Notre Dame Prep has made four straight trips to the Final Four and our one constant has been Livy Kowalkowski,” Wroubel said. “She’s a great leader and defender. I also credit our reserves. They have improved so much during the course of the season, but especially in the past couple of weeks. They push our starters so much and force them to make great plays.”

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