by Calli Newberry
The North Branch High School volleyball team had more than just another victory to celebrate on Thursday night.
The three-set sweep over the Imlay City Spartans on their home court marks the 50th consecutive BWAC win for North Branch, putting the Broncos on track for their fourth BWAC title later this fall.
They hold a 34-6 record, 11-0 in the BWAC, with three conference games to play. Imlay City trails them in second in the conference, with just two losses, both of which were to North Branch.
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“We’ve got a two-game lead on them with three games to go. We can clinch a share of it next week,” head coach Jim Fish said. “We play Yale and Cros-Lex, so if we beat both of them we clinch the title.”
Thursday’s win doesn’t guarantee the two teams won’t see each other again, however, which may prove more challenging as the Spartans continue to improve. In their first matchup early in the season, North Branch swept Imlay City 25-12, 25-5, 25-11. This time, the Spartans held their own despite falling 25-14, 25-18, 25-12.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” sophomore outside hitter Alana Deshetsky said. “Twice, you already know how to play each other really well and then that team is really fired up, it is hard to beat a team twice, but it’s usually known that three times is when it gets hard.”
Imlay City and North Branch will be on either side of the same District bracket and could meet up for the final match.
“They’re much improved and they’re only going to get better, so we’ve just got to keep getting better too,” Fish said. “You can see this is going to be a rivalry for years now. I give their crowd a lot of credit, there was a lot of emotions and intensity in the gym tonight which is good to see.”
The first and second sets saw several tied points, especially in a close second set as the Spartans closed the deficit to 19-17, forcing a North Branch timeout before ultimately winning 25-18.
“It did get close a couple times which was kind of nerve racking, but it was just fun to play, that was a fun game,” Deshetsky said. “Imlay city is becoming more and more competitive each time we see them so it’s nice to have a competitive league game.”
Deshetksy said her team had been making some adjustments in practice and were trying them out in a real game situation for the first time, along with incorporating a couple of new players as two starters were out due to illness.
“We were being aggressive. We probably didn’t have a very good hitting percentage tonight, but that’s because we’re trying new things and having an attack mentality going into each game,” she said. “That’s something we focus on deeply in practice so it comes into a game. It cost us a couple points, but that’s what we’ve been working on and it’s really exciting to see when it works out because we put so much time and effort into it at practice so to execute it in a game feels amazing.”
With 11 kills and 12 digs, Deshetsky led her team with the help of junior middle hitter Natasha Bickel with seven kills, four blocks and two aces, and junior outside hitter Bailey Gormley who chipped in with 10 digs, six kills, and four blocks. Sophomore setter Adrienne Greschaw added 28 assists on offense, and defensively, sophomore libero Hailey Green had a season-high 27 digs.
Sophomore hitter Clara Gyomory, who is second in the state with kill percentage according to Fish, was out of Thursday’s game due to illness, leading Fish to bring up sophomore Cate Welch.
“Cate Welch has been on JV all year long,” he said. “This was her first night on varsity, playing in a league-championship type game and did a great job for us. She had three big kills for us.”
North Branch ranks No. 4 in Division 2 and will look to defend its ranking as the Broncos progress in the state tournament. But before that, they have a conference and District tile to win first, which Fish said never gets old.
“It’s still exciting because this team hasn’t done it. There’s kids on this team that did it last year, but there’s new kids that have never done it,” he said. “It never gets old and that’s one of the most competitive matches we’ve had in a while, which is nice because that means the league is getting stronger.”