Source: The Oakland Press
Author: Jason Schmitt
ST. CLAIR SHORES >> Farmington Hills Mercy has prided itself all season with focusing on its next match - and not looking back.
But it sure would have been easy for the Marlins to relish in its most recent regional final victory over rival Birmingham Marian and overlook Tuesday night’s Division 1 quarterfinal foe, Sterling Heights Stevenson.
But that didn’t happen. Not even close.
Mercy senior Ella Louissa served up 10 straight points to open the match, helping her team build a commanding 16-1 lead and cruising to a straight-set, 25-8, 25-17, 25-14 victory over the Titans to advance to a second-straight state semifinal appearance in Battle Creek.
“In reviewing Marian, it was a lot of emotion on both sides, but there wasn’t a letdown (tonight),” said Mercy head coach Loretta Vogel, whose team beat the Mustangs for the sixth time this season last week to advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinal match. “They’re pretty well focused. It truly is the very next game for them.”
The Marlins dominated the first set from start to finish, as it was in all three sets. Mercy never trailed at any point, in any of the three sets. Despite coming off a big win over their biggest rival - one that avenged a loss in last year’s Class A semifinal round - the Marlins were laser-focused against the Titans, Macomb Area Conference White champions this fall.
“We’ve tried to focus on that all throughout the postseason, to take it one match at a time,” Mercy junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik said. “As soon as that (Marian) match was over, we knew we couldn’t keep thinking about that win. We had to move on. We knew someone else was preparing for us, and we needed to prepare for our next opponent.”
Mruzik led the way against Stevenson, collecting a match-best 16 kills. She also had five digs and served up a pair of aces. Junior libero Kayla Shields had 14 digs, sophomore setter Julia Bishop had 31 assists to go along with five kills, and sophomore middle hitter Charli Atiemo chipped in with five kills.
Stevenson first-year head coach Eric Wachterhauser wasn’t surprised with how well the Marlins played against his team. The Titans had lost to Mercy twice earlier this season. Tuesday’s appearance in the quarterfinals was the school’s first in 28 years.
“They did some things tonight that they did not do when we played them before, so they have improved,” Wachterhauser said. “They are every bit as good as we expected. The A-plus game that we needed to bring, apparently we left that on the bus.
“I’m proud of my kids for getting to this point. To achieve this in Year 1 is setting the stakes very high for the future. But Mercy is very solid and they earned that victory tonight.”
Next up for No. 1 ranked Mercy is a matchup against No. 2 Lake Orion, which defeated Flushing earlier in the night. The Marlins (53-2) have beaten the Dragons in three of the two teams’ four meetings this season. Their semifinal will be played Friday at 4:30 p.m., at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.
“We’re thrilled to be going back,” Mruzik said. “Last year, we had a really great opportunity and (the loss to Marian) is definitely something we learned from. We walked in and we had beaten Marian twice already last season. And we didn’t execute our game plan that well and we went in there thinking we were going to win, kind of took things for granted. We need to focus better this year. We need to work hard in the gym tomorrow, start preparing for (Lake Orion).”
Vogel believes her team is peaking at just the right time.
“Absolutely thrilled with where the girls are at right now,” the coach said. “I think we are (at our best), I think we have a good feeling. We’ve had a pretty good feeling most of the year, but we’re adding a few small items into the rotations and I think that’s worked well for us.”