No. 2-ranked Mercy nearing peak form, as Marlins sweep No. 8-ranked rival Marian
BIRMINGHAM — Oddly enough, after Tuesday’s seemingly one-sided sweep between Catholic League arch rivals, both coaches had the same feelings about their volleyball team.
Both felt like their teams were getting closer.
For Loretta Vogel, the coach of the No. 2-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy Marlins, it was a feeling of getting closer to finally being fully in synch.
“I think we’re on a roll right now. A little bit of the passing could be better, but our game plan was — we were able to do everything we thought they would do. They tripped us up on one small area in the third game, so we had to change things, and I think that helped us,” said Vogel, whose Marlins (30-2) haven’t dropped a single set to Marian in three meetings this season.
“I was just talking to some college coaches, and it’s like, this is the rivalry between Mercy and Marian. You’ll see this every time we compete against each other. It’s just good volleyball, and every time we compete against each other, the level is high amongst the two teams.”
And for first-year Marian coach Mayssa Cook, the feeling — despite a 25-19, 25-18, 25-23 loss — was that the No. 8-ranked Mustangs (22-5-2) were getting closer to actually making it a match against the Marlins.
“I think it’s the belief that we can beat them. I think we’re still battling that ‘We ARE good enough. We might be younger in a lot of ways, but we are good enough to beat them.’ I think when we see them next, at Catholic Leagues hopefully, I’m hoping to take one or two sets, push them to five, before we see them at regionals,” said Cook, admitting that her team’s issue against Mercy might be as much psychological as it was physical, despite the fact that Marian knocked Mercy off in last year’s Class A semifinals.
“I think so. We’re in there, we’re up by four, second set, again up by two, up by three, and at the very end we made the errors. Missing serves, tipping into the net. Little things like that.”
The first time the two teams met this year, at the Dakota Invite, Mercy — missing star outside hitter Jess Mruzik — won 25-19, 25-20.
In the first meeting in the CHSL regular season, at Mercy, the Marlins won 25-16, 25-17, 27-25.
“The scores were better, but I think a better indication was that we hung in there throughout all three sets, whereas the first time we played them, the first two sets were kind of blowouts. They had this big lead early on, and we never caught up,” Cook said. “If you really think about what happened here tonight, we played really, really well against them, but just made too many errors. And if we can even just cut those in half, that 23-25 turns in our favor. I really thought we were going to pull that third one off when we were up 20-16. … There were just too many unforced errors.”
The Marlins ended up pulling away later in all three sets on Tuesday, trailing by as much as four points, 20-16, in the final set, before rallying.
Mruzik led the Marlins with 16 kills, but Ella Louissia played a big role in Mercy’s hitting success, as well, with 10 kills. Kayla Shields had 14 digs, Ellie Tisko 2.5 blocks and Julia Bishop had 28 assists.
As much as anything, the Marlins stifle opponents with their depth.
“They’ve got three amazing middles. I think you can’t go wrong with any middle they play. All three are good.They’ve got three or four kids that are stud outside hitters. The bench is so deep, if somebody is struggling, they can put somebody else in, that could or maybe should have been a starter. And they clearly have one of the top setters in the state (Bishop). Even as a sophomore, I would rank her as one of the three to four best in the whole state, across all classes. So when you have that kind of leadership running your offense, on top of a potential Miss Volleyball next year, and maybe even the year after, with Julia. I essentially think they have two Miss Volleyball candidates on there, along with middles that are sometimes overlooked, because of Jess. … They’ve essentially got two starting lineups that could probably beat most varsity teams in the state,” Cook said, agreeing with the thought that Mercy is more than just Mruzik, who is certainly the most widely known.
“Oh, yeah. Jess is a big part of it, but they can win without her, most nights.”
For a while, the Marlins had to (and did) win without her.
Mruzik was gone from the team at the start of the season, playing for the U.S. Girls Youth National team in Honduras into September, before returning. Even then, she missed some time with small injuries, so she — and the Marlins — are just rounding into top form.
“When she came back from Honduras, she had some bumps and bruises, so we sat her out for a week and a tournament, so now she’s in rare form,” Vogel said. “She gets better every time she plays.”