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December 4, 2013

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep captures state title; Marian finishes runner-up

By Christian Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Prep’s Ellen Guerra sends a shot over the net against Grand Rapids South Christian. The Irish finished the year 62-2-1 overall.

BATTLE CREEK — Pontiac Notre Dame Prep junior Jenna Sassack leaped and then sent her shot deep into the Grand Rapids South Christian zone, finding an open spot and, in turn, giving the Fighting Irish the Class B state championship.

Prep beat the Sailors 25-15, 25-19, 19-25, 25-23 Nov. 23 in Battle Creek.

Players then spilled onto the court embracing each other, and veteran coach Betty Wroubel smiled widely, hugging her players.

“It’s neat to see kids work so hard on a common goal and achieve their success,” Wroubel said. “As a coach, that’s what you love.”

Prep spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in its class, according to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

Still, with high expectations, the Fighting Irish never lost focus.

“It was tough, but we could just trust ourselves and our teammates,” junior said Katherine Carlson, who led the team with 25 kills. “We’ve played some great teams this year, and we kept on pulling through.”

The Irish finished the year 62-2-1. Wroubel said it was in those two losses, both in best-of-three tournaments to Lake Orion High and Temperance Bedford, that the coaches improved.

“As a coaching staff, we sat down and said we have to do better. It feels like a 100 coaches on that bench; we ought to be able to put our kids in better position,” Wroubel remembered. “Once we started focusing on that, our girls were able to execute.”

Prep’s core group of players are juniors, and many of them have been playing at the varsity level since they were freshmen.

“These juniors as freshmen took a lot of losses,” Wroubel said. “They were young and had to earn to win, and learn it, unfortunately, by losing. They just kept on getting better, and this year they were focused and on a mission. They love their seniors, and wanted to play hard for them and put them out as championships, and that’s what they did.”

Senior Dani McCormick, who finished with 17 kills, which was the second most in the match, said it’s the chemistry that makes this team tough to beat.

“We didn’t have that skill (two years ago), so we had to rely on our chemistry. It’s just been building and building, and now that we have the skill, the chemistry is still there, and it’s been a double team,” she sad with a laugh. “I’ve never had it before with any other group of girls. … You want to succeed for the girls standing next to you, not necessarily for yourself.”

Marian makes state final appearance
The word “privilege” came flowing out of the Bloomfield Hills Marian volleyball team’s locker room.
The Mustangs had just fallen to East Grand Rapids 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 in the Class A state championship Nov. 23, but still, thankfulness was the message.

“It’s been amazing,” Marian’s first-year head coach Angela Kalczynski said. “It’s been a privilege, as well, with the other coaches, to coach these girls. It’s been a fun ride. I love this sport. I didn’t know I’d love coaching this much, building relationships and having friendships for years to come as they move forward.”

Kalczynski was an assistant with the program for eight years before taking over this season.

“At the beginning of the year, it was kind of tough because we were introduced to a lot of new things, but we just had such a great atmosphere at practice every day,” senior Jessie Kopmeyer said. “The coaches care about us as people, not just players, and I think that made us so close, and it was a privilege to come in and work with them and the girls every day.”

The cohesions of the players are what made the Mustangs hard to beat, according to their coach.

“One of the big things I think was just the unity in the team, the chemistry,” Kalczynski said. “They learned to trust each other — they fought for each other wanted to make each other get better. I’m very proud of them.”

Kopmeyer said the growth in the team was evident throughout the season.

“It’s just been so amazing to get this far with the girls,” she said. “The result was clearly disappointing, but I wouldn’t trade who I got to go here with over anything in the world.”

Against East Grand Rapids, the Mustangs were unable to get on track and play the way that led them to a 51-16 overall record.

“Ultimately, our passing broke down, and once we can’t pass the ball, it hinders our offense, and from there, it makes things more difficult,” Kalczynski said. “(East Grand Rapids) did a great job. They served hard and played phenomenal defense. Give credit to East Grand Rapids.”

The coach also gave credit to her seniors, Kopmeyer, Erin Turner, Teryn Findley and Paige Carey.

“They’ve done a lot for our program,” Kalczynski said. “Four starters — it’s going to be difficult losing them going forward.”

As East Grand Rapids was handed its medals, Kopmeyer stood with her teammates holding the runner-up trophy. The four-year starter was part of the team that won a state championship her freshman season.

“It’s been a really crazy ride the last four years. To go from winning states my freshman year, to being bounced out in regionals the next year and out in districts last year. We just pushed so hard this year,” she said. “It’s been an up-and-down experience, but the most rewarding one I could ever hope for.”

Oakland Christian falls in semis
Auburn Hills Oakland Christian also held the stage in Battle Creek but fell to Beal City 25-22, 25-15, 25-18 in a Class C semifinal Nov. 22.

The Lancers held a lead in each game, including a 20-17 mark in game one and a 7-1 advantage in game three.

Marcella Compeau led the Lancers with 13 kills. Elaine Haggard led the team with 29 assists.

Oakland Christian finished­ the year 38-8-8 overall.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Christian Davis at cdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1062. Twitter Follow Christian on Twitter.