The Dynamo, The Professor and The Glue lead Irish to unexpected volleyball success

Natalie Risi (left), Maddy Chinn and Maria Famularo — nicknamed by their coach the Dynamo, Professor and Glue of the 2018 Notre Dame Prep varsity volleyball squad — led the Fighting Irish to unexpected team success in their senior seasons, tying a school record for wins along with individual accolades. (Courtesy of Notre Dame Prep)

Notre Dame Prep senior trio leads Fighting Irish to glory on the state, national levels

This wasn’t the way the volleyball season was supposed to begin at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Nor was it the way the season was expected to end.

Way back in August when tryouts were held, hopes were high for the school to repeat as state champs with the prospect of seven juniors returning for their senior year.

Alas and alack! Only three showed up to go along with two juniors, a sophomore, and five freshmen.

In 40 years of coaching, coach Betty Wroubel — who has logged more than 1,900 matches and 1,486 victories, third most in state history — never faced a predicament such as this.

But, then, she never had a trio like The Dynamo, The Professor, and The Glue — Wroubel’s appellations for the three seniors who stayed with the program, respectively, Maddy Chinn, Natalie Risi and Maria Famularo.

“They were great leaders,” Wroubel says. “Oh, I’ve had teams with maybe one, or two, who were great leaders, but never three at one time like these three. They established a culture of hard work, camaraderie, and enduring faith.”

Chinn and Risi played for four years on the varsity, Famularo for three. 

“They willingly shared their experience and advice on how to handle the pressure, the hard practices, balancing school work,” Wroubel says. “They embraced the freshmen. It’s a huge jump from CYO to (high school) varsity. They were like mothers to them.”

The team’s accomplishments rank among the sport’s best at Notre Dame Prep. The season’s 64 wins ties the record set last year. Winning streaks of 54 matches and 121 sets were both snapped by a loss to Grand Rapids Christian in the Division 2 finals  — a place it didn't seem possible to reach in August. For the 25th year in a row, Notre Dame Prep earned Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association’s team academic all-star honors.

During the seasons the three seniors were playing, the Irish also ranked in the top 10 in the state as well as nationally. Their record was 226-28-13.

On an individual basis, Chinn, Risi and Famularo amassed their own trophy cases of recognition, ranging from all-American down to all-county, along with academic all-state honors.

Chinn's career 2,527 kills puts her on top of the MHSAA record book in that category. She also had 528 career blocks. Those stats make her the second player (only behind 2016 Olympian Alisha Glass, of Leland) to surpass 2,400 career kills and 500 career blocks.

Chinn won the biggest prize, Michigan’s Miss Volleyball for 2018. 

“She is a good teammate, very competitive, has a great volleyball IQ and works hard to be the success that she is,” Wroubel said.

Another Notre Dame Prep alum, Katherine Carlson, who now plays for Valparaiso University, was named Miss Volleyball for Michigan in 2014.

Chinn's teammate, Risi, was a finalist for the Miss Volleyball award this year. 

“She’s the total package,” Wroubel says. “She’s like a magician, the incredible shots she makes. She’s the best all-skills competitor on the team.”

Risi's 501 career aces are second all time in the state, and her 182 aces this season and 171 last season place her seventh and eighth on the respective season-record lists.

As for Famularo, “She’s the best all-time captain, the heart and soul of the team. She likes to crack a joke. It lightens the mood and holds us together.”

When the trio is not in the gym or the classroom, they are involved in a few pet service projects, such as the “No Senior Without a Christmas” program, Gleaners, God’s Helping Hands, and the Dig Pink Foundation.

Famularo also volunteers for the Magic Johnson Foundation and the United Healthcare Community, and Chinn has been running a soccer and volleyball program for Special Olympians. 

“What a joy it is to watch her and her teammates work with this group to spread the joy that athletics can bring,” Wroubel says.

At the season-ending banquet, each senior offered farewell reflections. Here’s a sampling: 

Referencing a quote she heard at a Kairos retreat, Chinn reflected fondly on her time at Notre Dame Prep:

“(This) really stuck with me: ‘The hardships I have experienced are not setbacks or failures, but the path that is guiding me to future successes and happiness,’” Chinn said. “I think this is a great way to describe this season and something for all of you to remember when you face challenges.”

Famularo also offered her thoughts: 

“Everything happens for a reason,” Famularo said. “There are ups and downs in life but just know God is the one who will take you where you want to go. Trust in him and He will help you more than you think.”

And Risi summed up her experience in a similar fashion: 

“God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers ... even though we may not always agree with God’s plan all the time, it will work out in the end.”

They will continue playing volleyball at the next level: Chinn at Purdue while pursuing dentistry; Risi to Ball State for business; and Famularo to Slippery Rock University for a career in nursing.

“Tears come to my eyes as I realize it is time for them to move on,” says Wroubel.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].