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Fruitport volleyball team can't match top-ranked Notre Dame Prep in Class B semifinals

Josh VanDyke • Nov 18, 2017 at 12:13 AM

BATTLE CREEK — Sometimes Goliath is just really good.

That was the overall sentiment following Friday night's Class B state semifinal match between the Fruitport and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball teams at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

After enjoying a magical run through the postseason, the Trojans ran into a team that appears destined for greatness this fall in the top-ranked Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame Prep used sledgehammer-like hitting, precision serves and overall crisp execution to dispatch Fruitport in three sets by scores of 25-15, 25-9 and 25-15.

The Fighting Irish improve to 63-2-2 on the season and will play Lake Odessa Lakewood (47-5-2) today at 4 p.m. for the Class B state championship.

The Trojans finish the 2017 season with a 36-18-4 record.

"We knew coming into this match that we were going to be major, major underdogs. We knew they had a great team that has been overpowering," said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. "Our focus today was about taking care of ourselves.

"We worked hard all match, we played great defense and our offense was clicking, too. They served the ball like madmen out there and got us out of system. Even though we didn't come out on top, I was proud of my girls. They did not give up, they worked super hard, and they kept surging back time and time again. That's what I asked them to do today, and they never quit.

"That's the best team we've played all year, by far. Betty (Wroubel) does a great job with them and she teaches her kids that no opponent is below them, and they are always playing their A-game for every single match."

GAMETRACK

Fruitport opened the match on a 2-0 run in Set 1, but the Fighting Irish quickly gained a 5-2 advantage shortly after that. The underdog Trojans would battle back to tie the set at 6-6 before the Fighting Irish would once again jump ahead for an 11-8 advantage.

Notre Dame Prep ended the set on a 14-7 run to secure the 25-15 win.

Set 2 would be all Notre Dame Prep, as the Fighting Irish would dominate play from the service line to control the pace of play.

After holding a narrow 6-4 lead early on in the set, Notre Dame Prep would go on a 19-5 run to pull away for a 25-9 win.

Fruitport would showcase their mental toughness and desire in Set 3, fighting back on multiple occasions to push the top-ranked Fighting Irish into a competitive rally.

After falling behind 5-1, Fruitport would chip away at the deficit and eventually force an 8-8 tie with four straight points of their own. The Fruitport faithful cheered on their beloved underdogs as the team attempted to keep their season alive.

The length and athleticism of the Fighting Irish began to take its toll, however, as Notre Dame Prep would go on a 6-1 run to take a 14-9 lead and force Fruitport to call a timeout.

Notre Dame Prep would extend its lead to 18-10 thanks to three consecutive aces off the service line, all but assuring a three-set sweep.

The Trojans wouldn't go quietly, however, as they would battle for points until the bitter end of the set.

The Fighting Irish would wrap up the set for a 25-15 win to sweep the match.

"We made a nice run in that third set, but then (Natalie) Risi got back there and started serving lasers from the service line. She's a good player and she really had a great match tonight," Bayle added.

"We were doing some really great things in that third set. We got our first free ball of the match midway through that set, which tells you everything you need to know about what that team does to its opponents. They were always attacking and always forced us to battle to even get the ball over the net sometimes."

Bayle's message to her team after the match was to learn from this experience and be proud of themselves for battling against an elite opponent.

"We got beat by a better team tonight. That's OK, because we played well, and we did a lot of things that have helped us be successful up to this point," she said. "We know they aren't losing a lot of players for next year either, so that's the standard of play that we have to try and live up to."

"Today was about us representing ourselves well, while competing and playing hard. We knew our opponent was going to be a beast. They are absolutely a machine, and I wouldn't be surprised if they end up putting together one of the best runs that we've ever seen in this era."

Junior middle blocker Kylie Oberlin recorded seven kills to lead the Trojans' attack, while junior outside hitter Morgan Fialek added six kills and one blocked shot.

Junior outside hitter Rachel Paulsen added five kills and nine digs; senior Chloe Kern added six digs; junior libero Trinity Busscher led the defense with 10 digs, and junior Kailey Carmean served up 20 assists and seven digs.

"Kylie and Kailey did a really great job today, and they kept us in the match," said Bayle. "Kylie showcased why she's an All-State volleyball player with her play around the net, and Kailey played great defense all match long.

"Their outside hitters were hammering balls right over our outside block and Kailey was hanging in there and digging those out. I know that's a scary position to be in because I was a setter myself. It's a dangerous position, but she never backed down and she kept fighting."

"We definitely know what we're getting ourselves into for next year because I'm sure they'll be back here again," said Carmean after the match. "They are a really good team, but we know we want to get back here and hopefully be better than ever.”

Natalie Risi recorded 19 kills, five service aces, and seven digs to lead the Fighting Irish, while Madeline Chinn added 19 kills with a .621 hitting percentage and nine digs.

Morgan Verheyen had 10 kills; Lauren Burnick had 46 assists and 10 digs, and Taylor Garrigan-Raio had 12 digs and four kills.

LIFE ON THE BIG STAGE

Despite coming up short in their quest for a state title, the junior-laden Trojans squad valued the experience at the Mecca of volleyball in Michigan.

"This has been an amazing experience. It's been more than I could have even hoped for," said Oberlin. "Our sendoff (from the high school) was awesome. We got a police escort, and we visited all the schools before we left. The support the community has shown us has been great."

Coach Bayle knows coming up short on the biggest of stages will motivate her squad more than any speech she could configure.

"Nothing will push you more to work hard during the offseason than seeing what your competition looks like at this stage of the postseason," she said. "I know these girls will be motivated to get back here next year, and now they know what they need to work on in order to do it."

With so many juniors getting their first experience of varsity volleyball, the 2017 Fruitport team had to learn on the fly.

"This was a major season of learning for these guys. They learned what it was like to play at varsity speed, play consistent opponents, and that they needed to always be focused and on time with your routes and rotations," said Bayle.

"With that Fruitport jersey comes a lot of responsibility and expectations. People want to beat us, and I think these girls learned that this year. We had some tough losses along the way, but we continued to progress. I thought if we could put it all together that we might be able to find that juju and have a great chance to be here.

"If I was a betting woman though, I probably wouldn't have put money down on us making it here at the beginning of the season."

Part of what helped Fruitport find its identity late in the fall and create its postseason push was the plethora of playmakers at coach Bayle's disposal.

"We're very diverse and well-rounded as a group," she said. "We have a multitude of players at different positions that can make an impact on the game.

"What's got us to this point was the play of our middles and our middle setting. We are notorious for having great outside hitters, but this team kind of breaks that mold a little bit, because we run a fast tempo and our middles are powerful and they block the ball well and have us firing on all cylinders most of the time.

"Our passing and ball control has been great, too. We just have skilled, well-rounded players that can do a little bit of everything out there."

COLONEL KERN

For Fruitport's lone senior on the roster, Chloe Kern, the experience of a state semifinal run almost felt surreal.

"Being here is like a dream come true. This is more than I could have ever asked for as a senior," she said. "Playing with this group has been awesome. It feels amazing to get finish my high school career here. You always want to make it here, but you never really think that it'll actually happen until you walk on the court before the match."

Kern has experienced first-hand the resurgence of the Fruitport volleyball program. As a sophomore, Kern saw the Trojans bow out in the district round of the postseason.

Since then, she has enjoyed two district championships, a regional title, and a state semifinal appearance.

"I couldn't have asked for a better group to do this with," she continued. "We battled all postseason, and we gave it our all. It's sad that we weren't able to win, but I'm excited for these juniors to get back here next year. I think we proved that Fruitport volleyball is back with our run this year."

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