BY DAN STICKRADT
IMLAY CITY — Like a runaway train, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s volleyball team is picking up an unstoppable pace down the rails.
After cruising to a Class B regional title last week with sweeps of state-ranked No. 9 Marysville and No. 2 North Branch, the top-ranked Fighting Irish rolled into Imlay City’s station to quickly pick up a 3-0 victory Tuesday night.
NDP abruptly ended No. 5 Corunna’s season with a 25-13, 25-18, 25-14 sweep of the Cavaliers in a state quarterfinals match that lasted a mere 1-hour, 6-minutes.
Next stop, Battle Creek station — thanks to the Irish’s overpowering talent against the upstart, scrappy Cavaliers (43-7-1).
Ranked 11th in the nation by www.prepvolleyball.com, NDP’s four-diesel attack rumbled down the tracks past Corunna and will play in their fourth Final Four in 11 seasons Friday at 6:30 p.m against Fruitport at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
“We had a game plan, but the things they do well took us out of the game plan a little bit,”admitted veteran NDP coach Betty Wroubel. “I think we fed off some of our big kills, they really energized us because Corunna made some runs at us. They play really good defense, played deep defense and frustrated us at times. We had some unforced errors, but we always found a way to rebound and make a run to win each set. At the end (of the third set), we were really playing well.”
NDP (62-2-2) will play in its fourth Final Four in 11 years, also making the tip in the fall of 2007, 2013 and 2014. The Irish have swept every team in the last month, and the last time they gave up a set was in mid-October to Troy at the Beast of the East Tournament.
“We’ve been picking up steam lately, so I don’t know if we hit a little bit of a plateau or what. But we played better in our wins t week,” said Wroubel. “But we still won and the kids get a chance to play in the semifinals. Everybody is excited. We expect a great match on Friday.”
Corunna, which dressed only eight players Tuesday, had no complete answers on how to derail Notre Dame Prep’s vast array of weapons — only finding ways to temporarily slow the Irish down.
“That’s the best team we’ve seen in a long while,” noted Corunna coach Kim Carnell. “They have so many weapons. They are hard to stop. I am pleased with the way we played. I think people look at our size when we walk into the gym and don’t think much, but we compete. We had only eight players the whole season and we had great chemistry. This group has a special place in my heart because of the way we played all season. We won a regional and came one within one win of tying our school record. We had a great season.”
It marked Corunna’s second straight state quarterfinals exit, but not at the displeasure of Carnell, who knew her team had to play better-than-perfect to beat No. 1 Notre Dame Prep.
“They are just so talented,” she added. “I I think they could win any Class and not just Class B.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Norris had 13 kills, Rylee Thayer aded 11 kills, Alexa Mort chipped in 22 assists and Madison Birchmeier picked up 12 digs for Corunna (43-7-1).
Maddie China had 11 kills, seven digs, three blocks and three service points for Notre Dame Prep. Taylor Raiola added 11 kills, eight digs, six service points and two blocks,Gabrielle Shilling slammed 11 kills and five blocks, Natalie Rise picked up six kills, eight digs, seven service points and four aces, Morgan Verheyen picked up eight kids and two blocks, and Maria Famularo followed with nine service points and nine digs for the Irish.