It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons, but at least there was a season and still is for the Father Gabriel Richard volleyball team. In a year filled with starts and stops, the Irish are one game away from starting a trip to the Final Four in Battle Creek later this week.
“It’s been a crazy season,” said FGR head coach Malia Demmin. “We had a positive COVID test in late September and had to stop playing for two weeks. Then the school had some cases and our quarantine was extended again. We didn’t play for three weeks.”
FGR played a handful of games before getting shutdown and then only had a few games left before Districts. The Irish were 2-2 in the Catholic League and 4-2 overall before starting the state playoffs.
They won their District and Regional before the MHSAA suspended its Fall tournaments for girls volleyball, girls swimming & diving and football per the emergency order to pause activity by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to limit the spread of COVID-19 on Nov. 16.
“It was frustrating because we felt like we were in a constant stop and start mode,” Demmin says. “It was really difficult to get any kind of rhythm. After stopping for three weeks we basically had to start from the beginning and take things slow so no one got hurt.”
But the Irish have not only adjusted but succeeded in these challenging times.
“The girls have been great,” says Demmin, now in her second season at FGR after coaching at St. Catherine’s. “They are just happy to be back on the court and playing. They’ve worked really hard.”
Demmin, who played at FGR (she was on the team in 2012 that won the school’s first District title since 1991), had high expectations for the Irish this season. “We have eight seniors and eight juniors so we have plenty of experience,” she said. “We felt like we would be stronger than the year before. I felt like we could win Districts and we had different teams in our regional this year so I didn’t really know what to expect.”
FGR won the Regional 14 title at Dundee by knocking off Flat Rock 3-2 and then sweeping Carleton Airport in the finals. They didn’t lose a game in winning the District 53 title they hosted way back on Nov. 5.
“The Flat Rock game was intense and a great experience for us,” said Demmin. “Flat Rock was a great team and it was a real physical and mental battle for us.”
The Irish face Lake Odessa Lakewood at 5 p.m. on Tuesday in Tecumseh in a Division 2 State Quarterfinal game.
“They (Lake Odessa Lakewood) are a strong team all the way around and have some height which is something we don’t have too much of,” says Demmin. “They are a solid team and it will be another good physical and mental test for us. We’ve done a good job against teams that are more physically sound than us because we have kept our focus and won the mental challenge.”
The Irish are not getting ahead of themselves. It’s a one game at a time approach – especially in this crazy and challenging season.
“This year we are focusing on our next opponent and preparing the best we can for that game,” says Demmin. “We have time to focus on the next one if we win this one.”
In case anyone else wants to look ahead, the winner of the FGR-Lakewood game will play the winner of the Warren Regina-Pontiac Notre Dame Prep game in the state semifinals at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in Battle Creek.
The other side of the D-2 bracket features Cadillac vs. Birch Run and Grand Rapids Christian vs. Edwardsburg. The state finals are at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16.