CLASS B GIRLS VOLLEYBALL:
BY DAN STICKRADT
BATTLE CREEK — Featuring two of the state’s top three teams in Class B, the clash between third-ranked North Branch and top-ranked Lake Odessa-Lakewood had the billing of a classic matchup.
North Branch proved otherwise.
The Bronchos defeated their third top five team in less than a two-week period Nov. 19 at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, this time sweeping Lake Odessa-Lakewood, 3-0, to capture the school’s third state title in less than a decade.
North Branch (58-9-0) took down the Vikings 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 to win their third state title in six trips to the championship match over the past decade.
The Bronchos also won in 2014 and 2009, while they lost in 2010, 2012 and 2015.
“What a run the last couple of weeks,” smiled North Branch coach James Fish. “We beat some really good teams in order to win the title. I felt we had the ability to do so, but we had to play well. I thought we were outstanding (in the final weeks of the season).”
The Bronchos defeated No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (regional semifinals), No. 5 Buchanan (state semifinals) and now No. 1 Lakewood on the grand stage.
“We beat the No. 1 team in the state — and they deserved their ranking with the type of season they had,” offered Fish. “Lakewood was nationally ranked and beating up on a lot of very good teams. I think I saw something in our player’s eyes before this game. They were as focused as I’ve seen them all season. To beat the No. 1 team in the state in three games describes just how well they played.”
Lakewood coach Kellie Rowland felt that North Branch’s size was too much to overcome.
“When you get here (to the Final Four) everyone is really good. It often goes down to size and if a team uses it to their advantage,” offered Rowland. “We are not the biggest team around and I thought that North Branch had a size advantage on us. That gave us a lot of problems. When we beat them in 2012 (state finals), we had more size than North Branch and I thought that was the difference in the finals that year.”
North Branch’s journey fell short a year ago to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, which swept the Bronchos in the Class B title match. The returning players more than remembered that humble defeat.
“We knew what it was like last year. We just worked so hard every day to get back here and win it this season,” said sophomore Allyson Severance. “We wanted this really bad.”
North Branch would not be denied this time around.
“Last year we lost to a better team to be honest,” added Fish. “This year I believed we had a chance if we played well. This might have been the best match that we played all season.”
And North Branch became the sole team not ranked No. 1 to capture a state title in 2016.
“I told the assistant coaches before the game that the No. 1 team in the state didn’t lose in the other three state finals. In Class D, Class C and Class A, they all won,” continued Fish. “We didn’t want that to happen in all four games.”
Severance had 12 kills to lead North Branch. Olivia Fike added seven kills, Madee Miner chipped in with 33 assists and Stephaney Fifield recorded 17 digs for the Broncos.
Breanna Wickerink had 11 kills for Lakewood. Alivia Benedict added eight kills and Gable Shellenbarger chipped in with 23 assists for the Vikings.
“I’m still proud of my team, even though we came up a little short,” added Rowland. “North Branch is a very good team with a lot of (weapons). They are very good — no shame in losing to a team like that. North Branch is always very good team.”