Source: The Observer/Eccentric
Author: Dan O'Meara
Birmingham Seaholm had just scored back-to-back points to take a 23-22 lead in the fourth game Thursday when Farmington Hills Mercy coach Loretta Vogel quickly called a timeout.
"Coach said, 'This is why we play volleyball,'" Mercy senior Jenna Lerg said. '"This is what we play for; this is why we play club. We've been looking forward to this the whole season,' and that was the only thing going through our heads. This is why we want to win, why we play for each other."
That little pep talk inspired the Marlins and helped the team rally for a 28-26 victory and a regional championship in the Class A final at Marian High School, 3-1.
Mercy, surprisingly, had easy victories given the level of competition in the first and third games, winning both by a 25-14 count. The Maples came back hard in the second game to win that one, 25-19.
The Marlins (53-6-2) will play Romeo, which upset Clarkston in tournament play Thursday, in a quarterfinal match 7 p.m. Tuesday at Utica Ford High School.
Seaholm gained a 14-10 lead in the tight fourth game with four straight points, but the Marlins kept chipping away and tied the score at 17 with a Kayla Fisher kill.
The lead continued to change sides even after the Mercy timeout. Vogel, mistakenly, thought the Marlins had won the match when Fisher hit another kill for the team's 25th point. It was a 25-24 score, however.
"I celebrated a little early," Vogel said. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. It was the 25th point and I thought it was the 26th, and I'm running out on to the court."
"Honestly, I was surprised, but you can't help but laugh," Lerg said about the premature celebration.
After the Maples regained the lead, 26-25, Fisher had yet another kill to tie, and senior Emily Crowley came off the bench to serve an ace. The winning point resulted from a Seaholm hit into the net.
"Once you get that final point, you don't know what to do; you're just so happy," Lerg said. "So happy for everyone else, everyone who came out and got to see a good game.
"Getting this far and knowing you're in the quarterfinals is such a special feeling. We worked so hard for this every day in practice."
Seaholm (50-11-2) frustrated the Marlins with an awesome double block in the second game. That helped the Maples on the attack, and they had Mercy scrambling and out of sync on its side of the net.
The Maples didn't change their scheme at all, according to coach Heather Lippert. They merely played the way they knew they could.
But the Marlins adjusted and were the better blocking team in the third game. Fisher in combination with Colleen Hadley, Lauren Hunter and Bella McDonald thwarted quite a few attacks.
Lerg also served back-to-back aces, and senior setter Shanleigh Conlan caught the Maples off guard several times with quick kills.
"I thought Seaholm came after us with everything," Vogel said. "In the second game, they took us out; their block was huge. We adjusted a little and tried to go higher off their fingertips. We also rotated a little according to their matchups.
"We got better touches in the third game. We're not noted for being big; therefore, we're not noted for getting great blocks. But tonight (the Maples) tend to hit a little lower to the tape, so it's an advantage."
"They were definitely taller than us," Fisher, who led the Marlins in kills, said. "Using their block and putting the ball where they weren't helped us and made us an effective team against the huge block. It helped push us through at the end, because they really struggled with moving."
Fisher played like the veteran player she is at crunch time in the fourth game.
"I knew I had to play my role and put the ball away when I should," she said. "Having those kills motivates the team and gets (the other players) going – and it gets me going, too."
Lippert said Seaholm's passing was a little off, making it difficult to run a good, consistent offense. Mercy's defense was a problem for the Maples, too.
"Mercy dug a lot of balls," Lippert said. "We were expecting to use our size to an advantage and they're very good defensively.
"Offensively, they gave us some balls we haven't seen all season. We tried to prepare, but it's difficult when you haven't played them.
"It was important for our kids to not get discouraged or frustrated when they're hitting and (the Marlins are) digging the ball. You have to keep hitting, find a hole and keep going at them.
"But it does get frustrating because you're hitting with all the power you have, and they keep digging the ball."
Lerg contributed in all phases, even with the block on a couple occasions. Her forte is defense and hitting from the left side, however. She was second in team kills.
Early in the third game, Lerg made a great, one-handed save out of bounds and later won the point for Mercy with a kill.
"I was thinking, 'I just need to be my best, so my team can be its best,'" she said. "Everyone was thinking that. Shanleigh said: 'I need to deliver ball, so the hitters can make good hits.' It was really a team effort.
"We knew they had big blocks but not necessarily the strongest block. I think our hitters did a real good job of hitting off their hands. If you hit off their hands, they can't find it. I think that was the key tonight.
"Also, Shanleigh spread the offense around really well. We started running a faster offense, and they couldn't block us as well."
In the back-and-forth last game, Lerg acknowledged the confidence level went back and forth, too.
"There's always a little bit of doubt when you're down four points and 'How do we sideout? We've tried everything,'" she said. "I think, once we do sideout and get on a run, that's good motivation.
"Toward the end of the game, we kept saying, 'This is our game. It's just a point-by-point game, and it's never over til it's over.'"
The Maples had their best overall season in the seven years Lippert has coached the team, winning six tournaments and the most matches.
Two years ago, when Seaholm played a quarterfinal match, the Maples would have been .500 if they had reached the state final. That wasn't a great season, she said.
"This season was spectacular and it was fun," Lippert said. "It was just our time to end today. With the team effort we had and the closeness the girls had, it was fun to watch, fun to be a part of it."
Meanwhile, the season continues for the Marlins, who hope to be playing on the last weekend in Battle Creek.
Mercy lost to Livonia Stevenson in a regional final last year and was in the quarterfinals two years ago, dropping a four-game match to Temperance Bedford.
"We get to the practice the final week," Vogel said. "Everyone shoots for that. You have 12 or so weeks in the season; we make it to the end. What an accomplishment."