After a thrilling five-set win against Bloomfield Hills Marian in the semifinal, Farmington Hills Mercy seemed to play like it had something to prove in the regional final against Cass Tech.
The Marlins looked a lot like the team that swept through the district level of the MHSAA volleyball playoffs in the final, winning three-straight sets against the Technicians (25-9, 25-14, 25-14), securing the regional championship and a quarterfinal bid.
Mercy will take on Macomb L'Anse Creuse North at St. Clair County Community College in the quarterfinal Tuesday.
"We're just thrilled," Mercy head coach Loretta Vogel said. "In the season, you look for that next challenge. For us, it's wonderful."
Mercy started quick in the first set with an 8-1 run, helped with kills by junior Ellie Tisko and senior Jess Mrusik, who, off the set by junior Julia Bishop, feather-touched the volleyball over the net for the point.
Holding a 12-5 lead after a kill by Cass Tech junior Kiersten Myles, the Marlins took over. With junior Charli Atiemo serving, Mercy went on an 11-0 run, leading to a 25-8 win in the first set.
With players like Mruski, Atiemo was initially intimidated by the talent on the Mercy roster as a freshman.
"When I came in, I was like I never thought I was going to get playing time, playing behind Jess and all these other seniors," Atiemo said. "Being a junior now, I can contribute something to the team. It's a good feeling."
After allowing the Technicians to take the early, 3-2, lead, Mercy went to work again, scoring nine of the next 11 points.
While Cass Tech came back to within three points, Tisko and the rest of the Marlin offense came alive, ending the set with am eight-point run, including three kills by the junior.
"It's working very well. It's more that we are trying to fill the missing piece," Tisko said of the Mercy offense. "It's kind of like everyone is stepping up. It's just important to step up and fill that role because we do want to win that state title."
In every game, Vogel said the team's goal is to find momentum early, not allowing opponents to get back into a particular set.
With the success Mercy brought against Cass Tech, Vogel thinks its just a testament to what the Marlins do each practice.
"Everything that you are seeing is things that we are trying to execute in practice," Vogel said. "Now you are seeing it in the actual games. They put a lot of time in."
The runs continued in the third and deciding set, with Mercy amounting to a quick 15-4 lead. In that run, Atiemo recorded five kills and a block, one part of her game that she is incredibly delighted by.
"I'm proud of myself because I'm undersized," Atiemo said. I'm 5-foot-11, so I just have to get as many touches as I can. "
After a five-point comeback by the Technicians with junior Brandi Seaborn at serve, Mercy secured the regional title with a kill by sophomore Leah LaFontaine, a block by Atiemo and a kill by Atiemo assisted by Bishop.
Tisko said, moving forward, the team needs to stay focused in practice, continuing its mental toughness and consistency on offense.
While a regional title is what Mercy wants, the players and coaches view it not only as an accomplishment, but as a step in the right direction.
"Our team, we just want to win the finals. That's our goal," Atiemo said. "Coming back every year, it's just rewarding, and I believe in ourselves so much."