BATTLE CREEK – Ann Arbor Richard’s win over North Branch in the Class B championship game capped a full day of coincidences.
The defending champ in all four classes returned to the finals at Kellogg Arena — and all four did not repeat. Richard beat North Branch in three games, 25-21, 25-14 and 25-19.
Richard completed the season undefeated at 42-0, ranked No. 1 in Michigan while also earning national ranking recognition. According to head coach Mayssa Bazzi, at least 20 of Richard’s wins this year were over Class A and B ranked teams, including Saturday’s Class A champion Novi.
“Before the game we were getting really emotional, talking about how it was the last time we’d all be playing together,” said senior Emily Tanski, who finished with 23 kills. “It’s reality now and I cannot be more proud of going undefeated, all the accomplishments. Usually I’d be crying right now but I’m just so excited.
“One thing we did well today was we swung and we fought, and we didn’t let up. We knew the harder we went to them they’d come back even harder at us and we didn’t let that scare us. Jurnee (Tipton, 26 kills) and Sydney (Burton) in the middle and outside, their power tonight was amazing and unreal.”
Richard finished with 59 kills, to 35 for North Branch (57-11-2).
“The front line’s been a huge asset to our team all season,” Tanski said.
Bazzi said it’s been a three-year building process for the Fighting Irish. Richard lost to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the 2013 regional final, the year St. Mary moved up to Class B. Then last year Richard was bumped out by Battle Creek Harper Creek in the quarterfinals. The latter also made it to this season’s final four but lost to North Branch.
“It feels amazing,” Bazzi said about going undefeated. “We have talented girls, great volleyball players. Just a special group of girls. Their personalities, their work ethic, their desire, it’s contagious and it just makes you want to be around them.
“I just said do what you do all season, it’s clearly worked, it’s gotten us this far, keep doing what we do best and make them change.
“We have some big shoes to fill (next year) but I don’t think we’re done. Next year hope to be in the final four.”
Each defending champ being able to navigate every opponents’ best effort all the way to the finals is a real tribute, agreed Olivia Fike, who led North Branch with 13 kills.
“We were supposed to be done in districts and we made it all the way down here, it’s just amazing,” she said.
“I’m proud of what we did,” Alexas Hernandez said. “We overcame so many things and I’m thrilled for that.”