The North Branch volleyball team waited a full year to storm the court in celebration at the Kellogg Arena, and on Saturday, Nov. 19, the Broncos finally got their well-earned opportunity to do just that.
“It felt like a whole year waiting for that moment, but we’re glad we got it,” head coach Jim Fish said. “I’m just super happy for our kids because last year we were in the State Finals, but we weren’t healthy and we had an emotional semifinal. It was great to be there, but we knew we were up against it.”
That emotional semifinal in 2021 followed by a 3-0 sweep in the championship gave the Broncos both the experience and motivation they’d need to get back to the State Finals and finish the job this season.
North Branch swept Grand Rapids South Christian in what Fish called the team’s “best match of the season” on Friday to qualify for the Division 2 State Championship against Cadillac on Saturday. And while the Broncos might’ve been favored to win, they soon found themselves trailing the Vikings 19-9 in the first set.
Junior Alana Deshetsky said that even though things looked bleak for the Broncos, she recalled the experience from last year’s semifinal when they trailed 17-6, yet managed to win the match 28-26 in the fourth set.
“I remember looking around and being like, ‘We’re not going to lose this set.’ That was just the mindset I had and I felt that mindset on the court from the rest of my teammates,” Deshetsky said. “It wasn’t ever words that were said, it was just that determination I felt in everyone.”
“We didn’t get nervous, we just made some errors and then that 6-foot-4 kid blocked some of our shots and next thing you know it’s 19-9,” Fish said. “We called two timeouts and I think everybody I talked to said [they thought], ‘Hopefully we recover after the first one,’ but we didn’t give up.”
There would be no need to recover after the first set once the Broncos began their comeback.
“They had really good blockers and tall people, so we knew we had to be smart and hit around the blocks or over the blocks,” freshman Aubree Deshetsky said. “When Mr. Fish called timeout, he told us, ‘You guys need to be smart with the ball. You’re not going to get a kill every time, you just need to be patient and wait for them to make an error or for us to get a smart kill.’”
So they did. Cadillac made back-to-back errors followed by back-to-back kills from Aubree Deshetksy and junior Kaela Chingwa. Now with only a 19-13 lead, Cadillac called timeout, but North Branch proved relentless, inching within two: 21-19.
Even so, Cadillac pulled away to make it set point at 24-19. If the Broncos were going to win a state title, it looked like they’d have to do it in four.
But they didn’t believe so. They would go on to tie it at 24, finally take the lead at 29-28, and win the highest-scoring set in MHSAA State Finals history at 31-29, led by Aubree Deshetsky who had the last three kills.
“[Aubree] was phenomenal all weekend. It’s hard to say she’s a freshman. That was just an amazing performance by her,” Fish said. “The moment was never too big for her, she played amazingly well.”
North Branch won the second and third sets 25-18 and 25-17 en route to claiming the program’s fourth state title.
Aubree Deshetsky led the team with 13 kills, junior Clara Gyomory added 12, and senior Natasha Bickel posted 11 in her final match. Alana Deshetsky had nine, and Chingwa had six.
"Being able to contribute like that after seeing them do it last year was really fun," Aubree Deshetsky said. "It was just crazy being on the court with them. Last year I was in the stands watching, and this year I was actually on the court."
Junior Hailey Green led the defense with 25 digs, Alana Deshetsky added 22, and junior Adrienne Greschaw had 45 assists to help her team to a total of 52 kills on the night.
“It’s more than just volleyball because of the community that follows us and roots for us. It’s something that’s really special and it’s something that I’ve watching since I was 3 years old,” Alana Deshetsky said. “To win it is more than just for the team that we’re on, but it’s for the teams that were ahead of us and the teams coming behind us. It’s more than just this team, it's for the community and to have other girls dream about it like we did.”
The Broncos finished their 2022 season just as they planned: being the last ones on the court. They ended with an overall record of 53-7 with their fifth straight BWAC title, 18th consecutive district championship, back-to-back regional titles, and the best of all, a Division 2 State Champion trophy.
They'll celebrate once more at their team banquet tomorrow, but Fish said they’re already setting goals for next year.
“We have 11 back [next season] that are pretty special players, so we’re looking forward to that,” Fish said. “We’ve never won two in a row, so we’re looking forward to seeing what that feels like.”
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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