BATTLE CREEK – The best player in the state lost to the best team in the Class A volleyball final at Kellogg Arena Saturday afternoon.
Novi had been ranked No. 1 for most of the season. Romeo, the defending state champs, featured the best player in Miss Volleyball Gia Milana.
The Bulldogs prevailed last year in a five-game thriller and Novi wanted revenge. They got it, winning in impressive fashion, 25-16, 20-25, 25-21 and 25-17, capping off a 55-2 season for the Wildcats.
“They’re a great team and we watched a lot of film and kind of had an idea of what they were going to bring at us,” said Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill. “Gia’s a phenomenal player and pretty much impossible to stop. We had to have a plan to defend everybody else.
“I was confident if we played our game we could defeat them, but they’re teenage girls. You are never quite sure what you are going to get.”
The Wildcats got 20 kills from Paulina Iacobelli, and 13 from Victoria, her sister, who was runner-up to Milana in the Miss Volleyball voting.
“Our game plan has always been pass and defend,” said Victoria. “If we’re passing well and take them out of their system there’s no one that can really stop us. We knew what we had to do going in. By serving touch and passing and making sure we defend.
“Obviously there was a little more motivation coming in from last year. I knew as soon as we knew Romeo was our opponent there was a lot of motivation.”
Novi continually took advantage of Romeo’s backline, which struggled with the lasers coming from the Iacobellis or Ally Cummings (17 kills).
Only Milana’s brilliance kept the Bulldogs from getting swept by winning the second game. She finished with 29 kills.
“Defense and passing killed us,” said Milana, who was blocked at the net on the championship point. “They were hungry coming in, but we just needed to say no to them. We didn’t say no. We played with them instead of at them. We let them take the wheel and do whatever they wanted.”
Novi came out firing, scoring seven of the game’s first eight points. The Wildcats never let up, building a 15-7 lead with strong play at the net and neutralizing Milana.
Unforced errors led to Romeo’s undoing as the short serves had the Bulldogs defense off-balanced. Novi doubled the score, 20-10 and was cruising. When Payton Klein served long the defending champs found itself down 1-0.
Romeo opened up an 11-6 lead to start the second game, but Novi took advantage of Bulldogs’ errors near the net to draw to an 11-11 tie.
But Milana dominated the rest of the game net, hurling her body through the air to nail cross-court winners at the Wildcats defense, including the final kill to tie the championship at 1.
The third game saw the Wildcats charge ahead 9-6 and 16-10 by attacking the Bulldogs’ backline.
Girls volleyball semifinal results and finals schedule