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North Branch concludes season against Notre Dame Prep in State Final

Photo courtesy of Calli Newberry

By Calli Newberry

The North Branch High School volleyball team took the court one last time on Saturday evening for the MHSAA Division 2 State Final match against Pontiac Notre Dame Prep. The Broncos fell 3-0 to the more experienced and very talented Fighting Irish. 

“They had nine seniors and three Division I players. One’s going to Ole Miss, one going to Marshall, and one going to Virginia Tech. They’re a veteran team. They’ve been there four years in a row. It’s a process and this was their turn so to speak,” head coach Jim Fish said. “We wanted to win, but that was our first time there, and we’re 10 sophomores. So if you just match it up that way, we knew we’d be up against it.”

Photo courtesy of Calli Newberry

Despite their odds, the Broncos remained competitive throughout the match. In the first two sets, they would stay within three or four points, but then Notre Dame Prep would take over to win 25-17 both times. 

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Giving it all they had to keep the match alive in the third, the Broncos tied at 10, but the Fighting Irish found some momentum and scored a quick 15 points to take the match, and the State title, 25-12. 

“I just wanted to be competitive and we were. The first part of each game we were competitive,” Fish said. “We were just outmanned, out experienced, and it’s just the way it was. But we were competitive.”

“I told them during the game and afterward that we’re one of the last two teams in the state still standing,” Fish said. “I told them before we started game three, ‘I’m having the time of my life. I’d rather be nowhere else but here, so let’s keep enjoying this, remember it, and then just play and have fun.’ So that third game we did, although the score didn’t indicate it.”

Fish said his young team struggled offensively, largely due to injuries sustained throughout the season. By Friday night, he wasn’t certain that sophomore hitters Kaela Chingwa and Alana Deshetsky would be able to play. 

But they did, and Chingwa had six kills and two blocks. Deshetsky had three kills and 15 digs. Junior middle hitter Natasha Bickel led the offense with seven kills, and sophomore setter Adrienne Greschaw had 19 assists. Leading the defense, sophomore libero Hailey Green had 18 digs. 

“Defensively we held them to hitting under .200 as a team, so we played great defensively,” Fish said. “We just could not score offensively.”

Photo courtesy of Calli Newberry

Saturday’s match has motivated Fish and his team even more for the coming seasons.

“Notre Dame Prep has finished our seasons the last five years. Four in the Regional final and once in the State Finals,” Fish said, “so I like our chances next year.” 

And he’s probably right. Everyone but senior defensive specialist Gracie Hyde will be returning next fall, and they’ll all be more determined and more experienced. 

“It was understanding that this is where we wanted to be. We reached our goal of getting to the State Finals, and now we build on it for next year,” Fish said. “I’m super proud of them and just excited because with the 10 we have coming back plus reinforcements, we’re going to be a special team next year.”

But this year’s team was pretty special too. North Branch (46-9) won three titles — BWAC, District, and Regional — without dropping a single set. The team even won the State Quarterfinal against Cadillac 3-0. And Friday’s State Semifinal match with Lake Odessa, according to Fish, was one of the best. 

“That game Friday night was special. It was just the epitome of what sports is all about. I had so many people come up to me afterward and they said it was just one of the amazing sporting events they had seen,” he said. “Just the grittiness of our team, the determination, the will to win, all of those things are what keeps you fueled and ready to come back for more.”

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