GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Five points made all the difference for Pontiac Notre Dame Prep on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish claimed their second-consecutive Division 3 State Title with a score of 773.68, edging out second-place Richmond at 767.70. Armada took third (761.90), trailed by Comstock Park (759), Onsted (748.80), Paw Paw (748.24), Howard City Tri County (747.02) and Lake Odessa Lakewood (746.88).
The championship win was the perfect cap to an undefeated season for Notre Dame Prep, coach Beth Campbell said.
"It was good to wrap up the year like that, that kind of season is once-in-a-lifetime," she said.
Campbell said this year's win was much more difficult than last year's.
"Any time you are defending state champion, there is a target on your back," she said. "It was probably 25 percent harder this year. It was a real challenge, but I think my girls decided a long time ago that they would win this."
Notre Dame Prep senior Alysa Gonzalez agreed, and said that this year's win was much harder.
"You don't have the loss of the year prior to motivate you to win," she said. "We didn't know if we would be good enough, but the skills came along and we started putting our heart on the mat."
After Round 2, Notre Dame Prep led Richmond 459.98 to 456.60, making the third round critical. Campbell said her team performed with passion and benefited from a 16-girl team tuck, something other programs haven't done.
"I knew my team was going to be strong, but it was close," she said. "It was a tough battle all the way through. We usually beat the field with our Round 2, but it was close today. We really relied on our senior leadership to get my team confident and ready to go."
Senior Olivia Riley said she wasn't told how close the margin was, and that was a good thing.
"We were kind of nervous, but we didn't know how close it was, so all we could do was go out there and do our best," she said.
Notre Dame has had a steady build to this point, taking third place three years ago, second place the year after that, and first last season.
"I thought, after 16 years of coaching, that one championship win would be the highlight, but winning two feels even better," Campbell said.
Gonzalez said it is hard to leave Notre Dame Prep behind.
"It is definitely bittersweet, I have so many memories here," she said. "All the underclassmen are so talented and hard-working, I know they will continue the tradition."
Seven-year Richmond coach Kelli Matthes said her team built on experience gained last season.
"We had an extremely small and extremely young team last year, and that helped this year," she said. "19 of our 24 athletes are underclassmen, which is huge. We started the season at one point and focused on one week at a time and just kept trucking."
Despite taking second by a mere five points, Matthes said her team actually closed the gap on Notre Dame Prep.
"In the last two weeks, we have come out of the first round five points behind them, so the gap was significantly closed today," she said. "Trailing by only five points in the entire competition is really good. No team is ever perfect, but I was really happy with the team today."
Matthes said her team owes a great deal to its seniors, all of whom inspired the younger athletes and made the year a success.
"This was an amazing group of seniors that worked hard and led every single day," she said. "If they were able to pass on even half of their leadership ability, we should be in good shape to be back here next year."
Mlive.com – March 6, 2015