Notre Dame Prep had ended North Branch’s last five volleyball seasons, and the Broncos were ready to stop the Fighting Irish reign.
“I was reminded by one of my assistants that the last time we beat [Notre Dame Prep] in the playoffs was six years ago,” head coach Jim Fish said, “and we won a state championship that year.”
The two teams met in Imlay City last night for the MHSAA Division 2, Region 15 Championship, and if a 3-1 victory over the defending state champion is any bit of foreshadowing, North Branch’s flight plan is still on track.
“Every year I’ve been on this team, they’ve ended our season,” senior Natasha Bickel said. “We got a taste of states last year and we knew this was going to be one of the biggest stepping stones in the way. We want to get to states and win states this year, so that was a big goal we just accomplished.”
North Branch scored the first five points of the match as hundreds of Bronco fans cheered louder and louder with each one. Prep finally called a timeout, sending the fans to their feet in an even louder celebration.
And even after the timeout, the Broncos continued their run until they led 9-0, eventually holding a 20-4 lead. They would win the first set 25-12.
“We just came out so relaxed, it was amazing. I’ve been telling them, ‘Tonight’s going to be a good night, it’s going to be a good night,’” Fish said. “On the bus on the way over they played ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas.”
But the Fighting Irish didn’t let the Broncos off that easy. They answered with a 25-21 victory in the second set to tie the match, and later led 18-16 in the third.
Freshman Aubree Deshetsky stopped her opponent's momentum with a kill, sparking a comeback for her own team. She and junior Clara Gyomory each struck again to secure the Broncos' 25-22 third-set win.
"My team supports me a lot and they don’t treat me like a freshman…and the community is so supportive and I'm just really determined to play well," Aubree Deshetsky said. "It’s really fun because we’ve always grown up watching our sisters and cousins play, so after seeing them do it, it’s really special for us to [win]."
With plenty of momentum and a 4-1 lead to start the fourth, Fish said even then he wasn’t certain of victory.
“When we hit 24 and Alana got the card, I knew we had it,” Fish said. “But not until then. They’re very capable.”
North Branch held a 16-7 lead midway through the fourth when Prep called another timeout. At this point, the regional title was in sight, but the Broncos remained focused. Junior Alana Deshetksy got the kill to inch her team closer yet at 24-15, which led to a perhaps too-excited celebration, causing the official to hand out a yellow card.
“It was a great card to get. That was five years of frustration,” Fish said.
Prep answered with one last attempt, getting a kill to make the score 24-16, but Alana Deshetsky struck once more, securing the Broncos’ second consecutive regional championship.
“It definitely was [a relief]. We knew we had the talent to beat them, it was just about how disciplined we were going to be and everyone just had to do their job,” Bickel said. “We made a focus this game to really enjoy ourselves because we know we play our best when we have fun…Games like this are definitely my favorite. The crowd here was amazing. There’s no way you can’t have fun during this game.”
The Broncos’ journey back to the State Finals will continue in the quarterfinal against Mt. Morris on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. in the St. Clair County Community College Field House. Buy tickets.
“We’ve just got to show up. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got to be better, and we will,” Fish said. “We’ll get in and get better, and trust me, they will not take anything for granted.”
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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