Preview: Set for Memorable Finishes
Preview: Set for Memorable Finishes
Volleyball
Posted Wednesday, November 18, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This weekend's Volleyball Finals at Battle Creek's Kellogg Arena will be filled with history-making opportunities, in addition to the usual significance that comes with winning an MHSAA championship. 

In Class B, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard is seeking to finish a perfect season with its first MHSAA title since 1991. In Class D, Battle Creek St. Philip will try to continue its record nine-season championship streak, starting with a Semifinal against top-ranked Plymouth Christian. 

And make sure to watch these seniors before they move on: Miss Volleyball Gia Milana of Romeo is back for the reigning Class A champion, while Novi's Victoria Iacobelli, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central's Skylar Iott, Grand Rapids Christian's Dylynn Otte and Gabriel Richard's Emily Tanski also were finalists for the award.

Click for the schedule in full plus information on live broadcasts of all 12 matches on MHSAA.tv and MHSAANetwork.com. Below is a glance at all 16 contenders, with statistics through last week's Regional Finals. 

Class A

GRAND RAPIDS CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 50-4, No. 3
Coach: Tiffannie Gates, fifth season (197-53)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 2-0, 2-0 and 2-0 over No. 8 Rockford, 2-0 and 3-0 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 5 Grand Haven, 2-1 and 3-1 (Quarterfinal) over No. 2 Mattawan, 3-0 over No. 9 Hudsonville in the Regional Final, 3-1 over Class B No. 4 Battle Creek Harper Creek, 2-1 over Class B No. 3 Lake Odessa Lakewood, 2-0 over Class B No. 5 Cadillac, 2-1 over Class C Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. 
Players to watch: Dylynn Otte, 5-11 sr. OH (619 kills, 42.5 blocks, 390 digs); Maddy Gates, 5-8 soph. S (1,148 assists, 357 digs); Samantha McLean, 5-8 sr. L (269 kills, 464 digs); Ellen Long, 5-8 sr. OH (294 kills, 19.5 blocks, 189 digs).
Finals forecast: Half of Grand Rapids Christian’s wins this season have come against teams ranked or receiving honorable mentions in the final statewide coaches polls. Five of those wins came over the last three weeks in tournament play as the Eagles eliminated three top-10 teams. Christian earned its second Regional title in five seasons under Gates, a former setter at Arizona State University, but this will be the Eagles’ first Semifinal appearance ever. Otte was an all-state first-teamer last season, and McLean made the second team as an outside hitter.  

LIVONIA CHURCHILL
Record/rank: 35-19, unranked
Coach: Mark Grenier, 20th season, first of second tenure (759-211-43)
League finish: Tied for first in Kensington Lakes Activities Association South.
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2007-winter), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 2-0 over honorable mention Northville, 3-0 over Canton, 3-0 over Monroe in the Quarterfinal.
Players to watch: Rayna Yetts, 5-8 sr. OH/S (484 kills, .401 hitting %, 239 assists, 354 digs); Annabelle Dunn, 5-10 soph. M (104 kills, .360 hitting %); Alyssa Facione, 5-6 jr. L (551 digs); Brianna Fulton, 5-5 jr. S (769 assists, 51 aces, 216 digs).
Finals forecast: Churchill built on last season’s District title with its first Regional championship since 2010. Grenier entered this season 22nd in MHSAA history for volleyball coaching wins, and after two seasons off before re-taking over the program. The Chargers are on a 21-6 run after opening against a tough slate that included some of the best teams from all over the Lower Peninsula. Juniors Annie Yost and Samantha Zonca add big hitting off the bench – both had more than 220 kills heading into this week, and Zonca had 13 in the Quarterfinal win.  

NOVI
Record/rank: 53-2, No. 1
Coach: Jennifer Cottrill, fourth season (176-20-2)
League finish: First in KLAA Central, Kensington and overall.
Championship history: Class A runner-up 2014.
Best wins: 2-0 over No. 9 Hudsonville, 2-0 over No. 5 Grand Haven, 2-0 over honorable mention Temperance Bedford, 3-0, 3-1, 2-1 and 3-0 (District Final) over honorable mention Northville; 2-0 and 3-0 (Regional Final) over honorable mention Farmington Hills Mercy.
Players to watch: Victoria Iacobelli, 5-10 sr. OH (513 kills, .407 hitting %, 31 blocks, 79 aces, 487 digs); Paulina Iacobelli, 5-10 sr. OH (324 kills, .329 hitting %, 90 aces, 27 blocks, 503 digs); Ally Cummings, 5-11 jr. RS (385 kills, .405 hitting %, 62 blocks, 293 digs); Erin O’Leary, 5-10 soph. S (1,136 assists, 252 kills, 42 blocks, 307 digs).
Finals forecast: Novi returned its top three hitters and setter from last season’s first trip to the MHSAA Finals, including Miss Volleyball candidate Victoria Iacobelli. She, Paulina Iacobelli and O’Leary all earned some level of all-state recognition after last fall, and the Wildcats have lost this season only to Farmington Hills Mercy and Class B top-ranked Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard. In addition to the big hitters and experienced setter, Novi has a wall in the middle with 6-0 sophomore Kathryn Ellison (101 blocks) and 5-10 junior Emmy Robinson (79). 

ROMEO
Record/rank: 47-7-1, No. 6
Coach: Stacy Williams, 10th season (284-139-34)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red.
Championship history: Class A champion 2014, Lower Peninsula Class A runner-up 1997 (tournament unified in 2000).
Best wins: 3-2 over No. 4 Lake Orion in Regional Semifinal, 3-0 over honorable mention New Baltimore Anchor Bay in District Final, 2-1, 2-0, 2-0 and 3-2 (Regional Final) over honorable mention Utica Eisenhower, 2-0 over honorable mention Saline, 2-1 over Class B No. 2 Mount Morris, 2-0 over Class C No. 2 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Players to watch: Gia Milana, 6-2 sr. OH (852 kills, .528 hitting %, 39 blocks, 345 digs, 110 aces); Erica LaBaere, 5-11 sr. MB (256 kills, 42 aces, 54 blocks); Jodie Kelly, 5-10 jr. OH/L (286 kills, 45 aces, 148 digs); Breanna Olley, 5-8 sr. S (987 assists, 40 aces).
Finals forecast: Milana, this season’s Miss Volleyball and the center of most conversation during last season’s Class A title run, will finish her career as one of the top hitters in MHSAA history – her kills this season rank 10th-most since rally scoring was introduced in 2004-05. She will play after high school for the University of Maryland. Kelly was the second-leading hitter in last season’s Final, and together their championship experience should be valuable this weekend combined with that of four more who saw the floor during the deciding match against Novi.  

Class B

ANN ARBOR GABRIEL RICHARD
Record/rank: 41-0, No. 1
Coach: Mayssa Bazzi, third season (94-21-1)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central.
Championship history: Class D champion 1991, Class C runner-up 1986.
Best wins: 3-0, 2-1 and 3-1 over No. 6 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 2-0 and 3-0 (District opener) over No. 10 Chelsea, 3-1 over No. 3 Lake Odessa Lakewood in Quarterfinal, 2-0 over Class A No. 1 Novi, 2-0 over Class A No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian, 2-0 and 2-1 over Class A No. 4 Lake Orion, 3-0 over Class A honorable mention Farmington Hills Mercy, 2-1 and 2-0 over Class A honorable mention Clarkston.
Players to watch: Emily Tanski, 5-9 sr. OH (501 kills, .365 hitting %, 354 digs); Jurnee Tipton, 5-8 jr. OH (426 kills, .346 hitting %, 201 digs); Emma Nowak, 5-10 jr. S (1,079 assists, 42 blocks, 294 digs).
Finals forecast: The Fighting Irish were a respectable 22-7-1 a year ago and won their Regional, but to go undefeated against a slate including most of the best in Class A as well is nearly unfathomable. Tanski, an all-state second-teamer last season, will play collegiately at the University of New Hampshire and gets plenty of help from Tipton and 5-11 senior middle Sydney Burton (221 kills, 65 blocks).

BATTLE CREEK HARPER CREEK
Record/rank: 53-5-2, No. 4
Coach: Terra King, 10th season (345-206-54)
League finish: First in Interstate 8 Athletic Conference.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 2-0, 2-0 and 3-0 (Regional Semifinal) over honorable mention Buchanan, 2-0 over honorable mention Plainwell, 2-0, 2-0, 3-1, 3-0 and 3-0 (District Final) over honorable mention Marshall; 3-0 over honorable mention Coopersville in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over Class A honorable mention Temperance Bedford, 2-0 and 2-0 over Class A honorable mention Portage Central, 2-0, 2-0 and 2-0 over Class D No. 2 Battle Creek St. Philip. 2-0 over Class C No. 1 Bronson.  
Players to watch: Charley Andrews, 5-10 jr. MB (755 kills, .492 hitting %, 73 aces, 122 blocks, 294 digs); Olivia Leson, 5-9 sr. OH (517 kills, 77 aces, 425 digs); Katie Wade, 5-8 sr. S (1,385 assists, 97 aces, 211 digs).
Finals forecast: Harper Creek will head just down the road for a Semifinal for the second straight season after never making it past the Regional before 2014. And this group is familiar with the level as well as the locale – four seniors start, with Jess Cadena and Kim Kusler joining Wade, Andrews and Leson among five who saw the court most during last season’s Semifinals loss. Leson made the all-state second team, and Andrews was honorable mention. All but one of the Beavers' losses this fall were to Class A teams, three ranked. The lone Class B defeat was to No. 5 Cadillac. 

GOODRICH
Record/rank: 39-9-1, No. 7
Coach: Robyn Batterbee, ninth season (299-143-37)
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 2-1 and 2-0 over No. 8 North Branch, 3-2 over No. 2 Mount Morris, 2-0 over honorable mention Frankenmuth, 3-0, 3-0 and 3-2 (District Final) over honorable mention Corunna; 3-0 over honorable mention Marysville in Regional Final.
Players to watch: Abby Francis, 5-10 jr. OH (407 kills, .354 hitting %, 61 blocks, 255 digs); Kamryn Wallace, 5-9 sr. S (630 assists, 152 kills, 220 digs); Kristi Doherty, 5-8 sr. S (500 assists, 260 kills, 64 aces, 260 digs).
Finals forecast: This is the first time Goodrich has advanced to the final week of the season; in fact, the Martians have made great strides since posting a sub-.500 record only two seasons ago. They also went 3-4-1 over their final eight matches of this regular season, but stormed through the playoffs sweeping four of six matches. And this could be just the start, as three seniors mix with three more starters who should gain valuable experience for another run in 2016. 

NORTH BRANCH
Record/rank: 56-11-2, No. 8
Coach: James Fish, 16th season (917-151-46)
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference East.
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), three runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 5 Cadillac in Quarterfinal, 3-0 over No. 2 Mount Morris in District Final, 2-0 and 3-0 (District Semifinal) over honorable mention Frankenmuth, 2-1 over No. 10 Chelsea, 2-1 over Class A No. 8 Rockford, 2-0 over Class A honorable mention Saline, 2-1 over Class A honorable mention Clarkston, 2-0 over Class A honorable mention Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, 2-1 over Class A honor able mention Farmington Hills Mercy, 2-0 over Class A honorable mention New Baltimore Anchor Bay.
Players to watch: Olivia Fike, 6-1 jr. MH (476 kills, .427 hitting %, 103 blocks); Allyson Severance, 6-0 fr. OH (403 kills, 356 digs); Madee Miner, 5-7 jr. S (1,375 assists, 117 aces, 248 digs).
Finals forecast: This championship contender looks a lot different than last year’s title winner, with only two players back who saw major time in the 3-0 win over Lakewood – but that pair is an excellent one. Miner is back as the setter and Fike has taken over as the main hitter after finishing with the second-most kills in last year’s Final. And with North Branch playing its usual strong schedule, new contributors gained plenty of experience again top competition that has shown during a strong tournament run. 

Class C

BRONSON
Record/rank: 56-10-3, No. 1
Coach: Jean LaClair, 16th season (724-283-67)
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference East and overall.
Championship history: Class C champion 2009, LP Class C runner-up 1990.
Best wins: 2-0 and 3-0 (Quarterfinal) over No. 6 Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 3-1 over No. 9 Schoolcraft in Regional Final, 2-1 over honorable mention St. Louis, 2-0 and 3-0 over Class D No. 2 Battle Creek St. Philip, 3-0 over Class D No. 8 Mendon, 2-0 and 2-0 over Class D No. 5 North Adams-Jerome, 2-0 over Class B honorable mention Marshall.
Players to watch: Alexa Ratkowski, 5-9 sr. S (1,553 assists, 270 kills, 324 digs, 87 aces, 82 blocks); Kirin Cekander, 5-8 sr. OH (335 kills, 73 aces, 480 digs); Jill Pyles, 5-10 jr. MH (485 kills, .391 hitting %, 180 aces, 87 blocks, 150 digs).
Finals forecast: Bronson took over the top spot in Class C in mid-September and never gave it back. Despite graduating an all-state hitter from a year ago, the Vikings improved their win total for the third straight season while helping coach LaClair get the 1,000th of her career. Ratkowski, an all-state second-teamer in 2014, will finish with the third-most assists for one season in MHSAA rally scoring history, while Pyles, an honorable mention last year, will be top five for aces in a season. 

BROWN CITY
Record/rank: 40-8-5, No. 8
Coach: Jenna Welke, third season (101-33-13)
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference East.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 3-1 over New Lothrop in Quarterfinal, 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1 (District Semifinal) over Marlette; 3-0 and 3-0 (District Final) over Sandusky.
Players to watch: Becki Krause, 5-8 jr. OH (511 kills, 79 aces, 271 digs); Kendal Muxlow, 5-7 fr. OH (245 kills, 76 aces, 202 digs); Alexia Mason, 5-6 jr. S (1,059 assists, 118 aces, 102 digs).
Finals forecast: Last season saw Brown City’s win its first Regional title; the Green Devils have taken another step into their first Semifinal despite also graduating an all-state hitter in the spring. A glance at this fall’s opponents isn’t as much about who Brown City has beaten, perhaps, as who it saw in losses – reigning Class B champion North Branch, Class B No. 2 Mount Morris, Class B honorable mention Frankenmuth and Class A honorable mentions Stoney Creek and Anchor Bay. After those matches, no team this weekend should intimidate Brown City during its first trip to Kellogg. 

MONROE ST. MARY CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Record/rank: 36-8-1, No. 2
Coach: Karen O’Brien, first season (36-8-1)
League finish: Tied for first in Huron League.
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-1 over honorable mention Laingsburg in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over Class A honorable mention Northville, 3-2 and 3-0 over Class A honorable mention New Baltimore Anchor Bay, 2-1 over Class B honorable mention Marshall, 2-1 over Class B honorable mention Corunna.
Players to watch: Skylar Iott, 6-0 sr. MH/OH (504 kills, 53 aces, 62 blocks, 314 digs); Regan Hodgson, 5-7 sr. OH (220 kills, 367 digs); Rose Kemmerling, 5-2 sr. S (499 assists, 127 digs); Lauren Kemmerling, 5-6 soph. S (639 assists, 192 digs).
Finals forecast: The Kestrels might have a new leader, but little has changed in terms of dominance. O’Brien was retired coach Diane Tuller’s assistant during last season’s title run and has been head volleyball coach at the University of Toledo and Siena Heights University in addition to multiple high schools over 30 years. She inherited Iott, an all-state first-teamer last year, and a group of new contributors who have stepped in for graduated standouts. Junior middles Merina Poupard and Leah Ritchie have combined for 287 blocks.

TRAVERSE CITY ST. FRANCIS
Record/rank: 51-6-3, No. 5
Co-coaches: Rita Jones and Heather Simpson, fourth seasons (182-35-10)
League finish: First in Lake Michigan Conference.
Championship history: Class C runner-up 2012.
Best wins: 3-0 over honorable mention Calumet in Quarterfinal, 2-0 over Class D No. 6 Waterford Our Lady, 2-0 and 2-0 over Class D No. 3 Leland, 2-0 over Class B honorable mention Corunna.
Players to watch: Juliana Phillips, 6-4 jr. MB/OH (441 kills, .424 hitting %, 95 aces, 135 blocks); Madeline Rysztak, 5-11 sr. OH (459 kills, 105 aces, 277 digs); Ally Bradfield, 5-9 sr. S (1,059 assists, 55 aces).
Finals forecast: St. Francis is making its second trip to Battle Creek under Jones and Simpson and has won league and District titles all four seasons with the co-coaches. Rysztak and Phillips made the all-state second and third teams, respectively, last season, as St. Francis finished 49-6-3 but fell short of the season’s final week. The Gladiators haven’t given up a set in their last 11 matches. 

Class D

BATTLE CREEK ST. PHILIP
Record/rank: 45-16-2, No. 2
Coach: Vicky Groat, 18th season (1,007-205-82)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association.
Championship history: Twenty MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), eight runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 8 Mendon in Quarterfinal, 3-0, 3-0 and 3-0 (Regional Final) over No. 5 North Adams-Jerome; 3-0 and 3-1 (Regional Semifinal) over honorable mention Pittsford, 2-0 over No. 3 Leland, 2-0 and 2-0 over honorable mention Climax-Scotts, 3-0 over Class C No. 9 Schoolcraft.
Players to watch: Abby McKinzie, 5-9 sr. OH (630 kills, 58 aces, 518 digs); Taylor Pessetti, 5-0 jr. S (1,043 assists, 278 digs); Morgan Luoma, 5-7 sr. OH (316 kills, 416 digs); Kameron Haley, 5-7 jr. L (92 aces, 737 kills).
Finals forecast: St. Philip has twice as many MHSAA championships as the next most accomplished program, more than twice as many MHSAA championship match appearances, and last season set the MHSAA record with a ninth-straight title – despite also entering that postseason not ranked No. 1. McKinzie made the all-state first team last season and Haley was an honorable mention – and they’ve been joined by a number of new contributors on a team with only four seniors. 

CRYSTAL FALLS FOREST PARK
Record/rank: 39-1-3, honorable mention
Coach: Kim Bjork, 10th season (322-31-38)
League finish: First in Skyline Central Conference.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 2-0 and 3-1 (Regional Final) over No. 10 Stephenson, 3-1 over Rogers City in Quarterfinal, 2-0, 2-0 and 3-1 (Regional Semifinal) over Munising.
Players to watch: Maria Stankewicz, 5-4 sr. S (844 assists, 78 aces, 277 digs); Michaela Steiro, 5-10 sr. OH (340 kills, .347 hitting %, 55 aces); Libby Shamion, 5-7 sr. OH (227 kills, 130 aces, 291 digs).
Finals forecast: Forest Park will be playing in its third Semifinal in five seasons and with its only loss this time – and one of the three ties as well – to Class C honorable mention Calumet. In fact, the Trojans have given up only nine sets this entire fall with a team featuring nine seniors. Stankewicz earned an all-state honorable mention last season. 

LELAND
Record/rank: 47-7-4, No. 3
Coach: Laurie Glass, 21st season (827-248-83)
League finish: First in Northwest Conference.
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), six runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-0 over honorable mention Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart in Quarterfinal, 2-0 over Class C honorable mention Calumet, 2-0 over Class C No. 5 Traverse City St. Francis, 2-0 over Class C No. 3 Montague.
Players to watch: Maddie Trumbull, 5-10 sr. OH (546 kills, .331 hitting %, 73 aces, 376 digs); Eva Grobbel, 5-11 sr. MB (277 kills, 55 aces, 139 digs); Ella Siddall, 5-4 fr. S (1,084 assists, 83 aces, 146 digs).
Finals forecast: Last season’s runner-up is making its third straight appearance at Battle Creek with a pair of experienced leaders to go with a freshman setter. Trumbull made the all-state first team in 2014 and Grobbel made the second team, and senior middle ViAnna Hennig (202 kills) saw time in the Final a year ago. Freshman outside hitter Allie Martin also is part of the program's next chapter; she had 309 kills, 87 aces and 347 digs heading into this week. 

PLYMOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 35-5-1, No. 1
Coach: DJ Kellogg, first season (35-5-1)
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference.
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 9 Marine City Cardinal Mooney in Quarterfinal, 3-0 over No. 4 Lansing Christian in Regional Final, 3-0 over No. 6 Waterford Our Lady in Regional Semifinal, 2-0 over Class C No. 2 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Players to watch: Olivia Mady, 5-8 jr. OH (321 kills, 61 aces, 190 digs); Grace Kellogg, 5-9 soph. OH (387 kills, 217 digs, 69 aces); Jessica Paulson, 5-11 jr. S (682 assists, 118 digs).
Finals forecast: Plymouth Christian took over the top spot in the rankings just less than a month ago and hasn’t disappointed. The Eagles haven’t given up a set during the MHSAA Tournament despite the hardest path in this class. Mady and Grace Kellogg earned all-state honorable mentions a year ago and could make this a multiple-season run; Plymouth Christian has only one senior.

PHOTO: Jenna Grabowski (9) and a Crystal Falls Forest Park teammate block a kill attempt by Munising during last week's Regional Semifinal win. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)


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