Mercy never forgot the sting of losing to Marian in last year's Class A state semifinal tournament match. The Marlins turned that disappointment into a season-long revenge tour against their Catholic League rivals.
Number-one ranked Mercy defeated No. 6-ranked Marian for the sixth time this season Thursday evening to claim the Division 1 regional championship. The Marlins won in three straight sets, 25-17, 25-20, 25-13, to complete the sweep.
Mercy also defeated Marian in the championship matches of the Stoney Creek and Dakota tournaments, twice in Catholic League regular-season play and then in last month's Catholic League tournament title game.
"The feeling is unreal. Ever since last November when they knocked us out in the state semis we've been waiting for this match and waiting to get our revenge on them," said junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik. "Everyone said it's hard to beat a team two or three times, but we beat them six times this year.
"Marian played a really great match, but I just think we were so mentally dialed in and we knew what we wanted to do," she said. "Everybody on our team stepped it up big time."
Second straight regional title
The victory lifted Mercy to its second straight regional championship and veteran head coach Loretta Vogel couldn't have been happier with her team's year-long ownership of Marian. The Marlins did not lose a set to the Mustangs all season.
"It's hard playing a team -- what, six or seven times this season, I'm not fond of that," said Vogel, whose team is now 52-2 on the season. "But, this time it worked out and we're thrilled. We knew what we wanted to do defensively and that had an impact on us. I thought all the girls really came through."
The first two sets were close, but Mercy was in control most of the evening.
The Marlins took a 4-2 lead in the first game and never trailed, although the Mustangs got to within a point at 17-16. Marian had a bad serve for a side-out and then Mruzik came up with a pair of ace serves to make it a 20-16 game to spark her team's eight-point victory which ended on a block kill by senior middle hitter Mallory Conrad.
The second game was also competitive with the teams trading leads through the early going. The teams were tied at 14-all, but the Marlins went on a 11-6 run to win the game.
Mercy went up 7-4 in the third game and simply hiked the lead from that point on. The Marlins were ahead 24-13 and won the game on a kill by sophomore Charli Atiemo.
"They played their A' game tonight and we didn't play ours," said Marian's first-year head coach Mayssa Cook, whose team finished 36-10-2. "We battled at times, really, really tough. But, I thought we played a little tight. We played not to lose, when really, you don't have anything to lose against the number one team in the state.
"I'm proud of this team. They've worked really hard all season," she said. "We beat teams that were better than us. But, tonight we just didn't bring our 'A' game. They served so aggressively they kind of forced us to be a little bit out of our system."
On to the quarterfinals
Mercy was led by Mruzik who finished with 17 kills, two aces and a pair of block assists. Sophomore setter Julia Bishop posted 39 assists with five kills while Atiemo added 11 kills. Junior libero Kayla Shields registered a team-high nine digs.
"I think our power on the pins (was the difference)," said Mruzik. "Senior Ella Loussia had an unreal game. She's been bringing it every day in practice, and, really each and every person has been bringing it. We've been working hard on serve-receive and power on the pins."
The Marlins, who have not lost a set in the state tournament, now head to the state quarterfinal match where they will play Macomb Activities Conference foe Sterling Heights Stevenson 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at St. Clair Shores South Lake High School. Stevenson defeated Fraser Thursday to win is regional championship.
"There's obviously a lot of pressure without having dropped a set," said Mruzik. "But, we like to say pressure is a pleasure. So, we like having the pressure on us. We like having a target on our back and were just hoping that we can keep making a run throughout the playoffs.
"After losing in the semis last year we want to win that state title," she said. "That's what our eyes are on and we really want to get there."
Contact Marty Budner at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MartyBudner.