Teammates Natalie Risi and Maddy Chinn dominate together as Miss Volleyball finalists

PONTIAC, Mich. — Betty Wroubel has navigated the peaks and valleys of the high school volleyball landscape in her 40 years of coaching. Yet, as Wroubel navigates her way through her 28th season of coaching at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, she is preparing to face a challenge that she has never encountered before: Who will earn her vote for Miss Volleyball?

Wroubel votes on the Miss Volleyball every year. The award is presented by the Michigan Volleyball Coaches Association to a senior that is voted to have had the best high school career. Wroubel has her own criteria, often examining how players have improved over a career while looking at how much better they make their teammates.

This year, however, Wroubel's criteria is not going to make her decision any easier. For the first time ever, she has two girls named as finalists for the prestigious award.

Notre Dame Prep outside hitters Natalie Risi and Madeline Chinn are both two of the 10 finalists that have been named for the 2018 edition of the award.

"It's going to be hard for me to vote," Wroubel said with a sense of lightheartedness laced with concern. "I don't like this at all because they're both great."

Risi and Chinn have been key members of Prep's varsity program since they entered the school as freshman. According to Wrubel, both have grown into better players over the course of the four years. Both are six rotation players. Both are going on to play in college as Chinn will attend Purdue while Risi will head off to Ball State.

"They just work hard every day and I can't say enough good things about them," Wroubel said. "They've been terrific teammates. I'm not looking forward to voting."

To help put Wrubel at ease, Risi and Chinn have confessed that they don't care if one wins it over the other.

"It doesn't matter," Risi and Chinn said in tandem, both giggling.

The two girls are used to doing things in tandem. Of course, they've been playing together since they were 13 years old but, away from the court, they also have a strong friendship that bonds them together.

"I think our relationship is more like a sister relationship rather than a friend relationship," Risi said. "We're just super close considering that we spend so much time together. Even when we're not in school or in practice, we still try to hang out with each other. We still always make that extra time for each other."

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior outside hitter Madeline Chinn competes in the 2017 Class B volleyball state championship. (Patrick Nothaft |

Honored together

Since the Miss Volleyball award was first handed out in 2003, Notre Dame Prep has had a handful of finalists and one winner, Katherine Carlson in 2014. Both Risi and Chinn appreciate the history of the award and what it means to be a finalist.

"For me, it's a huge honor," Chinn said. "We've seen so many athletes that we are friends with or just know of that have been nominated and won the award. They were great people and great athletes. I know we work hard in the gym and games to be like them and hold that title to a very high standard."

Risi echoed Chinn's thoughts and notes that playing for an elite program has helped push both of them to new heights.

"It means a lot," Risi said. "It's been a lot of hard work along the way. Obviously, it wouldn't be able to happen without everybody like the teammates, coaches and family."

What if one of them wins it?

"We've talked about it a lot," Chinn said. "We'd be extremely happy for the other person that would get it. We're such great friends and great teammates so I think, whatever happens, we'd be extremely happy for the other one."

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior outside hitter Natalie Risi competes in the 2017 Class B volleyball state championship. (Patrick Nothaft |

Growing in harmony

Wrubel sees all kind of great assets that the girls have to offer the program. Wrubel expressed that both are great talents and great leaders. However, she also expressed how their special friendship has added a deeper and more positive dynamic to their game.

"It strengthens our game and strengthens our team," Wrubel said. "It has for four years. They've been leaders since they've stepped on the floor here. Natalie has been here since the fourth grade and then grew up here. Maddy came in the ninth grade but that friendship was an instant bond."

Wrubel has watched Risi and Chinn grow immensely since their freshman year, although she insists they never lacked in talent.

"It's their IQ that has improved so much over the three-and-a-half, four years now," Wrubel said. "They've really been students of the game. They watch a lot of film. They watch a lot of collegiate ball to see what they're doing and then bring that into practice. You'll see some very smart shots by them. They can both pound it … but now they'll make the smart shot."

Although the girls have grown to become excellent outside hitters, they are not carbon copies of each other either. They each bring different qualities to the court the compliment each other's game.

"I think we compliment each other really well," Chinn said. "We both have strengths and weaknesses and I think both of those compliment each other. I think that's why we play really well together, especially. It's been weird going off next year and not playing with Natalie."

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior outside hitter Natalie Risi goes up for a kill at a practice on Sep. 26, 2018. Both are finalists for the Miss Volleyball award. (Jared Purcell |

Leading the best

Last year, Notre Dame Prep won its third Class B state championship in program history and is certainly on the right track to defend its title. Having won 25 matches in a row, Chinn and Risi are enjoying the ride of being defending state champions.

"It's a huge honor coming back from a state championship," Chinn said. "Obviously, we're going to want to do that again … We've been working realy hard to impliment what our volleyball really means and making sure we can represent it as best we can this year."

With a very balanced team the last couple of years, Risi and Chinn did not have any inflated stats as the ball was spread around to hitters generously. This year, however, Risi and Chinn are the go-to girls and they are both learning to lead a much younger team that has five freshman.

"It's definitely been something that we both have had to work on a lot this year, especially having so many incoming freshman and so many new people on the team," Risi said of being a captain. "It's definitely been kind of an adjustment from being the babies of the team, like so young to now having to take over the team."

The girls are just looking to lead by example, sharing the lessons they've learned from Wrubel and past teammates over the years.

"We want to take the things that we've used last year — and even years before that other teams have give us — to keep implementing them into the culture and make sure it carries on when we leave," Risi said.

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior outside hitter Natalie Risi goes up for a kill at a practice on Sep. 26, 2018. Both are finalists for the Miss Volleyball award. (Jared Purcell |

One last hurrah

As much as Chinn and Risi would appreciate being named Miss Volleyball, it pales in comparison to their desire to win back-to-back titles for the first time in school history.

"We know the first important thing is to hopefully get another banner on the wall and win another state championship," Chinn said. "To go back-to-back would be amazing. (We will) focus on that and whatever happens, happens."

Not only is this season the final chance to win a state championship for the girls, it is the final time that they will be playing volleyball together. Of course, that aspect is hard for Chinn and Risi to grasp.

"The time is really just flying by," Risi said. "Having each other when we were 13 and now we're graduating seniors, it's just really weird to know how long how long we've known each other and next year we're not going to see each other as much. It's just crazy to think that."

Although their time as teammates will soon come to an end, their friendship and sisterhood is far from over.

"I think our relationship has really bonded over the years," Chinn said. "Being with each other in the school, in the gym and even out of school, our relationship has been strengthened by a lot of things. We continue to learn new things about each other every day, which I really love. I think we're definitely going to remain friends for a long time."

Miss Volleyball finalists and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep teammates Madeline Chinn and Natalie Risi answer questions about each other. They are two of 10 …

Chinn and Risi Q&A session

Check out the video above as the two friends and teammates answer questions about each other.

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior outside hitter Natalie Risi poses at a practice on Sep. 26, 2018. Both are finalists for the Miss Volleyball award. (Jared Purcell |

Risi's résumé

2018 stats:

  • Aces 94 (leads the state)
  • Points 227
  • Kills 278
  • Blocks 41
  • Assists 127
  • Serve receptions 158 (only 10 errors)
  • Digs 228

Career stats (excluding some 2018): 

  • Sets Played: 426
  • Record: 162-22-11 (9th-11th 46-10-5, 52-10-6, 64-2-2)
  • Aces 319 (ace % 17 and service % 93) we scored on 1137 of her 1870 serves
  • Kills: 1077 (kill % 40 (451 jr year) hitting % 286 (351 her jr year)
  • Assists: 655
  • Blocks: 208
  • Digs: 1239
  • Receiver: 1074

Notable accolades:

  • 2017- Division 1  All American Team (National Athletic Association of Private Schools)
  • 2017 1st Team All State, 2016 2nd Team
  • 3.918 GPA

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior outside hitters Madeline Chinn poses at a practice on Sep. 26, 2018. Both are finalists for the Miss Volleyball award. (Jared Purcell |

Chinn's résumé

2018 stats:

  • Aces 30
  • Points 110
  • Kills 302
  • Blocks 60
  • Assists 36
  • Serve receptions 310
  • Digs 237

Career stats (excluding some 2018)

  • Sets Played 448
  • Kills 1874
  • Hitting % .391
  • Kill % 50.9
  • Blocks 389
  • Digs 889
  • Aces 170

Notable accolades:

  • All-American: 2017/2016/2015
  • All-State: 2017 (1st Team)/2016 (1st Team)/2015 (2nd Team)
  • 3.98 GPA


ND Athletics