Pontiac Notre Dame Prep captured the Class B state championship Nov. 18 in Battle Creek.

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep captured the Class B state championship Nov. 18 in Battle Creek.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes


Notre Dame Prep sweeps Lakewood in Class B final

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published November 18, 2017 | Updated November 20, 2017 5:42pm

 Players hoist the state championship trophy after the three-game sweep. The Fighting Irish finished the season with 53 straight victories.

Players hoist the state championship trophy after the three-game sweep. The Fighting Irish finished the season with 53 straight victories.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

 Members of the Notre Dame Prep team run off the bench following the final point of the match. The Irish finished the year 64-2-2 overall.

Members of the Notre Dame Prep team run off the bench following the final point of the match. The Irish finished the year 64-2-2 overall.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

 Prep's Natali Risi hits a shot past a Lakewood player in the state final.

Prep's Natali Risi hits a shot past a Lakewood player in the state final.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

BATTLE CREEK — "N ... D ... P"

 

Those three letters loudly echoed through Kellogg Arena for each corresponding bump, set and spike as Pontiac Notre Dame Prep secured a Class B state title, besting Lake Odessa Lakewood Nov. 18 in Battle Creek.

 

A huge Irish-friendly crowd chanted the initials as the club cruised to the championship — the program's first since 2013.

 

"I can't say enough on how proud I am of this group of girls," Prep coach Betty Wroubel said. "They're great kids, they're very good volleyball players, but they're even better people. They worked so hard for this and really deserved it."

 

Through the entire postseason the Irish didn’t drop a single set. That trend continued as the group claimed the trophy via a 3-0 sweep winning 25-16, 25-17 and 28-26.

 

"I stopped telling the newspapers how many straight wins we were at because the pressure was starting to get to the girls," said Wroubel of a streak that stands at 53. "It is very impressive though. The girls worked for it. If you saw our practices this past week, they were working as hard as they did in August. Kudos to them for sticking to the plan and chasing their dreams."

 

The club posted a 64-2-2 overall record, with the final set of the season proving to be one of the closest of the year. Lakewood (47-6-2) earned early leads at 10-6 and 15-10. NDP rallied to take its first lead of the set at 20-19. Ties occurred at 23, 24, 25 and 26 before the Irish took home a 28-26 victory.

 

"We went down 17-13 and then said to each other that we weren't going to lose this set," senior middle hitter Gabrielle Shilling said. "We've come back from bigger deficits, and we knew we just had to play our game."

 

In her 24th season at the helm of the program, Wroubel knew her side would be in for a challenge as Lakewood had been in the exact same position last year, falling in a close match to North Branch High in the final.

 

"I felt pressure all year, and when you're the runner-up, it's a huge motivating factor," Wroubel explained. "I don't know if that would be a trump card on us. I knew (Lakewood) would come out like gangbusters in the third set, and we just had to weather the storm. We regrouped and overcame some mistakes to finish strong."

 

Wroubel pointed to Shilling and fellow senior Lauren Burnick as leaders for the group, saying they called on past experience to motivate the Irish.

 

"(Burnick) and (Shilling) lost their freshman year here in Battle Creek in the state semifinals," Wroubel explained. "After another loss in the playoffs in their sophomore year, they said they were going to win us a state championship before they graduated, and today they delivered."

 

Shilling recalled that moment, saying she knew she had to make it count after falling in the regional semifinal last year.

 

"(Burnick) and myself know how hard it is to leave with tears of sadness," Shilling recalled. "So to leave with tears of joy and to come full circle is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is an amazing feeling."

 

Ranked by many as the No. 1 team in the state, Shilling said the team remained focused to live up to expectations but not to get caught up in what others were saying about them.

 

"We don't really talk about rankings in our gym, it's more about going out there and doing what we knew we could do," Shilling explained. "I don't think we felt the pressure. The goal for the state tournament was to make it to Battle Creek. Once we accomplished that, anything extra like winning a state championship was just a bonus. Coming in here it was about staying in the moment."

 

Both Shilling and Wroubel commented on the fan support, citing it is an advantage in the small arena.

 

"This was probably our biggest crowd yet," Shilling said. "To have them rallying behind us made a big difference."

 

Wroubel agreed.

 

"I was shocked, we had the beatification for Father Solanus in downtown Detroit, we had our school play today, and the hockey team came over after their game in Kalamazoo," Wroubel said. "They were awesome and very positive. A lot of times you come here and hear some negative cheers disrespecting some other kids, but I was proud of how our fans kept it positive and respectful for our girls."

 

While she graduates six from the lineup, Wroubel is already looking ahead as her group includes a strong junior class and two freshmen on the current varsity roster.

 

"Tomorrow we'll start thinking about next year," Wroubel said with a laugh. "We'll still celebrate but I'm thinking about a game plan. We graduate half a dozen seniors but the other kids added a lot."