Going out on a limb: Notre Dame will be Class B volleyball champs

Coach Betty Wroubel will shudder when she reads this, but I’m going out on a limb: her Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball team will win the Class B state championship this fall.

The Hall of Fame coach has played volleyball in high school and college, and has coached more than 1,800 volleyball games over a four-decade period, now in her 23rd year at Notre Dame. As of last weekend, Notre Dame is 41-2-2, which raises Wroubel’s victory total to 1,399. I predict that she will get No. 1,400 this week, third-best winning total in state history. See how easy this stuff is?

The Fighting Irish have been ranked No. 1 in Class B all season long. A dozen of the wins have come against top-10 teams, including Class A 2nd-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy, 3rd-rated Lake Orion, and nemesis North Branch, rated No. 2 in Class B. Mercy and Lake Orion handed ND its two losses.

About North Branch, Class B champs two of the last three years, Wroubel said, “They have kind of owned us since we beat them in 2013, so it was nice to know that we can play with them.”

She also knows, with three weeks remaining in the regular season before the state tournament kicks off Oct. 30, such predictions are meaningless. (Apology to the editor if Wroubel won’t allow her players to see this edition of the paper.)

In my defense, I had asked Wroubel about the ingredients of the recipe for ND’s state championship teams in 2007 and 2013. She paused a moment before answering: “Camaraderie, talent and experience.”

How does this year’s team stack up?

“They play hard for each other, they love each other,” Wroubel said. “It’s fun watching them grow up.” To build better team spirit, Wroubel tries “to find a way to get each (of the 14 players on the squad) into a game. They practice together. They’re all part of the team.”

The camaraderie spills over off the court. “I see them on a bus (to away games) tutoring each other. It’s equally important they do well in the classroom.” ND has been named to the all-state academic honor roll 24 years in a row, and on the national academic listing for the last nine years.

Community service projects are another facet of team unity. “The idea of giving back is a hallmark of Catholic schools,” Wroubel said.

Talent and experience complement each other. Six players have been starters on the varsity since they were freshmen, a combined 19 years. Senior Lauren Burnick (committed to Lake Erie College) has accounted for more than half of the team’s 1,000-plus assists.

Senior Gabrielle Shilling (Rhode Island University) is the team’s leading blocker. “She’s a real spirit builder for us.”

Juniors Maddy Chinn (Purdue) and Natalie Risi (Ball State) both have that “give me the ball” attitude when “we’re in trouble.” The 6-foot-3 Chinn has surpassed 1,500 kills in her ND career so far (682 alone in her sophomore year for a state record). Risi consistently leads the team in points, serving aces, and nearly 300 digs.

Chinn and Risi remind Wroubel about a pair of other dominant players in ND volleyball history. Molly Campbell (nee Coldren) led the 2007 champs. At Central Michigan, she made her mark in softball, setting home run and RBI records. She teaches fourth grade at ND Marist lower school.

Katherine Carlson, “Miss Volleyball 2014,” who amassed 2,100-plus kills in her prep career, led the Irish to the 2013 championship. She’s taken her skills to Valparaiso, where she is a junior starter and among team leaders in several categories.

Don Horkey

Junior Morgan Verheyan and sophomore Taylor Raiola are “dynamic” on both offense and defense. “They hate to be taken out.”

“There are a lot of weapons,” Wroubel said. “Hopefully, it can come all together.”

Remember, you heard it here first.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected]