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D1 VOLLEYBALL FINALS: No. 1 Farmington Hills Mercy finally grabs elusive first state title, beating No. 2 Lowell

By: DAN STICKRADT, November 23, 2019, 8:08 pm

BATTLE CREEK  — Finally.

After losing in the state semifinals last season — a five-set heartbreaking defeat to eventual state champion Lake Orion — Farmington Hills Mercy would not be denied this time around.

The top-ranked Marlins — who were ranked No. 1 in Division 1 for the better part of the past two seasons — finally earned that elusive state championship with a 3-1 victory Saturday over second-ranked and first-time state finalist Lowell.

Mercy (58-1-0) prevailed with a 25-21, 25-12, 23-25, 26-24 victory over the Red Arrows.

“I told the girls during districts that only one team will finish on top — only one team (in each division) will enjoy success on the final day,” said Mercy coach Loretta Vogel, who completed her 11th season as head coach of the Marlins. “It’s not easy to win (a title).

“This is 43 years. I’ve been working at this a long time,” continued Vogel. “I’ve been here many times, but never (enjoying) this final part of the game — it’s just a dream come true. We have been here a few times before and lost in the finals before. We lost in that semifinal last year and I know they all remembered that.”

Lowell advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history only to fall short against the favored Marlins.

University of Michigan-bound Jess Mruzik slammed an eye-popping 34 kills in the title game win to go along with 15 digs, four assists, a block and a service ace to wrap up a fine season.

Mzurik’s kills total was the third-highest in a state finals game in the rally-scoring era, which began back in 2004-05. She was named Miss Volleyball earlier in the week — a secret withheld by her teammates and coaching staff.

“I don’t think (winning Miss Volleyball) would have meant so much if we didn’t win,” offered Mruzik. “We’ve worked so hard throughout this season and the season’s leading up to this. I truly believe 100 percent that we deserve this trophy. Lowell played amazing. They’re an amazing team. They played out of their minds. But I just think, in the end, that we’ve been working so hard. We’ve had this goal since the beginning of the season and even two years prior when we lost here, so I would’ve definitely been disappointed if we didn’t come out on top.

“My teammates have had my back every step of the way. They’ve been really supportive. They kept the secret from me, all the coaches kept the secret from me that I was getting Miss Volleyball,” continued Mruzik, determined not to let a disappointing finish ruin a fine campaign.

“As a senior, it’s probably like the best feeling. That’s how you want to end your high school career is with a state championship,” added Mzurik.

Mercy (58-1-0) lost only one time all season, when Mzurik missed a couple weeks competing with USA Volleyball Junior National Team.

Julia Bishop was the caboose stoking the engine, racking up 54 assists over the four games to aid the Marlins. Ellie Tisko added 14 kills, Amina Robinson had 22 digs and Madi Malecki supplied 12 digs for Mercy.

Vogel invited her entire roster to the postgame press conference because she felt this was the closest team she’s had over the years and every player played their roles.

“This team was co close. I told them that you don’t have to like each other, just have respect for one another. I thought we had that with this group,” added Vogel. “I think from the beginning, everyone plays their role,” Vogel said. “We didn’t bring anyone up from our JV or freshman team, because it was emphasized that they’re a very close-knit group, and I respected that.”

Lowell finished a stellar 55-3-0, advancing beyond the regional finals for a first time and escaping the shadows of long-time Grand Rapids-area powers such as Rockford, Grand Rapids Christian, East Grand Rapids, Hudsonville, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Byron Center and Jenison.

The Red Arrows led 9-4 in Game 2, only to see Mercy go on a 21-3 tear in the set to go up two games. Lowell battled back to take the third set and pushed Mercy to the brink in Game 4 only to fall in the end.

“I’m super proud of the way our girls fought the entire time,” beamed Lowell coach Jordan Drake. “It’s a familiar feeling after Set 1, dropping it, but our girls came out and fought still. Set 2 got a little ugly there at the end, but Set 3, we came out hot and took them there, and in Set four, we had our chances. They made some good plays on the other side of the net, and credit to them, they’re a good team, but I’m proud of the way our girls fought.”

Jenna Reitsma had 22 kills on a 70-for-84 attacking  to go along with 12 digs performance for Lowell. Meghan Meyer added 17 kills, Sophia Powell contributed 40 assists, Emma Hall had 13 digs and three aces, and Kambry Kloosterman had 10 digs for the Red Arrows.

“Our support was amazing,” added Drake. “We filled half of the stands, more than anyone else. It’s such a great community.”