Source: The Oakland Press
Author: Dan Fenner
BLOOMFIELD HILLS >> Five regular season wins over Birmingham Marian were certainly welcome achievements, but only a payback victory in the playoffs was going to satisfy Farmington Hills Mercy’s volleyball program this year.
The two rival schools’ inevitable postseason meeting came Thursday in a Division 1 regional final. In control from start to finish, Mercy kept its winning ways going with a three-set sweep of Marian, 25-17, 25-18, 25-13, to help make amends for being eliminated by the Mustangs a year ago.
“The feeling is unreal. Ever since last November when they knocked us out in the state semifinals, we’ve been waiting for this match,” Mercy junior Jess Mruzik said. “We were waiting to get our revenge on them. (Marian) played a really great match. I just think we were so mentally dialed in and we knew what we wanted to do.”
Despite its No. 6 state ranking, Marian was unable to win a set against top-ranked Mercy all season. Things were no different Thursday in the sixth meeting, though familiarity between the two squads certainly left open the possibility of a surprise.
“It’s hard playing that kind of a team six times this season. I’m not fond of that, but this time it worked out,” Marlins coach Loretta Vogel said.
“We watched our earlier tapes to see if (Marian) changed or did something differently. As the season moves on, we add more situations in the games. We knew what we wanted to do defensively and I think that had an impact on us.”
The opening set was the most closely contested, as Mercy’s 17-10 lead briefly shrunk to a single point before an 8-1 run by the Marlins dashed the Mustangs’ hopes of stealing one early.
Mercy used a 6-0 run in the decisive third set to pull away, culminating with two final kills by sophomore Charli Atiemo that ignited the celebration.
“I think our power on the pins (set us apart),” Mruzik said. “Senior Ella Louissa had an unreal game.”
Mruzik finished with a match-high 17 kills for the Marlins (52-2), while junior Kayla Shields had nine digs, sophomore Julia Bishop totaled 39 assists and five kills, and Atiemo chipped in with 11 kills.
“Our setter, Julia, was just huge,” Vogel said. “I thought all of our girls came through. Jess is always steadfast and does a lot of strong things.”
Mercy advanced to Tuesday’s Division 1 quarterfinal match against Sterling Heights Stevenson, which will be played at 7 p.m. at St. Clair Shores Lake Shore High School.
“There’s obviously a lot of pressure,” Mruzik said. “We like to say pressure is a pleasure, so we like having the pressure on us and the target on our back. We’re just hoping we keep making a great run throughout the playoffs.”