Amid Loss, Marian Closes Out Inspired Win

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 16, 2021

BATTLE CREEK – One of the great moments at the end of any MHSAA Final is the winning coach hoisting the trophy aloft and joining their players in celebration. 

On Saturday, Bloomfield Hills Marian volleyball coach Mayssa Cook passed on that moment, and in the process made it even more special for all involved. 

Cook handed the honor off to Jacqui Feldman, the daughter of Dave Feldman, the Marian athletic director who died Thursday after a long battle with COVID-19.

“It was so special,” Marian junior outside hitter Ava Brizard said. “Me, Sara Sylvester and Sophie Treder played with her our freshman year, so we know the Feldman family really well. It was so devastating to hear that he passed away the night before we were supposed to go to Battle Creek, because he was just as competitive as we were the whole season. He loved volleyball so much, and we know that. It was just kind of more fuel to our fire to win a state championship, as if we didn’t have enough already, to win it for him and win it for her. It was just so special for her to give us that trophy, because we were like, ‘We did it for your dad.’” 

The players had Feldman in their hearts as they defeated Lowell 25-17, 25-20, 25-19 in the Division 1 Final at Kellogg Arena. It’s the Mustangs’ third title, and first since 2010. 

“I think this whole season, it was just about resilience,” Brizard said. “Starting off in August, we didn’t get to start right away and we had to practice in the muddy water on the beach and the grass. We just dealt with all the punches that came our way this season, so to finally get here to Battle Creek and win the whole thing and play the way we did out there and play so amazing, it feels like all of our hard work paid off. Especially with Mr. Feldman passing, we feel so grateful that we can win it for him, and we know he’s definitely smiling and jumping around up in heaven, cheering us on.” 

Marian (35-5) was solid in all phases, but Brizard’s dominance at the net was too much for Lowell to contain. She finished with 29 kills compared to just four errors on 52 attacks. Her last three kills provided the final three points of the match. 

“We do call her our finisher, our closer,” Cook said. “It’s one of those things they know that if she’s in the front row, we’re going to fight to keep her in the front row. Obviously, we have capable hitters all around. It’s nice, because she’s probably hitting close to .500 on the season, so at the end of the day, the odds are that one out of two balls is likely to be a kill. Let’s just play those odds.” 

Brizard was fed by Ava Sarafa, who finished the match with 39 assists. Ella Schomer added eight kills and 11 digs for the Mustangs, while Lauren Heming had 15 digs.  

Marian’s entire roster is eligible to come back next season, and while that’s nice to think about now, it was something that drove Cook and her team all season. 

“A reporter was already talking about next year, and I said, ‘I don’t know why you’re talking about next year. This year’s not over, and we have a mission, we have a goal,’” Cook said. “I went back to the team and said, ‘This is what this reporter said, can you believe it?’ We grab little things as coaches, and we use it as fuel to push them to go beyond their comfort zone.” 

Lowell (35-5) was led by Jenna Reitsma, who had 22 kills, while Emily Struckmeyer had 10. Sophie Powell finished with 32 assists, and Emma Hall had 17 digs.  

“(Reitsma) is phenomenal; she’s special,” Lowell coach Jordan Drake said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever coach a hitter like her again. She’s the best of the best. At the same time, she doesn’t get the kills she does without a good pass. She doesn’t get the kills she does without a good set. These three (seniors Reitsma, Powell and Hall) are like sisters, and it’s not just Jenna, it’s the whole team.” 

It was the second straight Finals appearance for Lowell, and while neither ended with a title, that success has elevated the program to a new level. 

“It’s just really cool to see the support from our community,” Reitsma said. “And all of the younger girls that we can have an impression on, and see how they grow up to be, and just how they watch us. It’s going to be amazing to come back and watch the program over the years to see what an impact we had, because all the little girls out there that watch us play have big dreams to do what we do, too. It’s really cool, and I’m hoping they can keep that legacy going.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills Marian’s Ava Brizard sends a kill attempt during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Lowell’s Jenna Reitsma controls possession. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

After 2021 Runner-Up Finish, North Branch Ends 2022 Back On Top

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 19, 2022

BATTLE CREEK – Natasha Bickel had an up-close look the last time North Branch won a Finals volleyball title. As a ball girl, she was able to watch the Broncos take home a championship at Kellogg Arena. 

On Saturday, Bickel got to experience being on the court to win one.

“I remember when I was a ball girl one of the years we won states (2016) and one of the years we didn’t,” Bickel, a senior middle hitter, said. “Except for last year, we haven’t really came this far. Coming back here, being in the Finals and winning it? It put the cherry on top.”

Bickel and the Broncos defeated Cadillac 31-29, 25-18, 25-17 in the Division 2 Final. It was the fourth title for the program, and first since 2016.

“We put a lot into this,” Bickel said. “We’ve poured our lives into this sport. It’s really awesome. This was our goal since we were little. As we were going up every year we were pushing for it, and last year we came so, so close to doing it. We added a freshman and she’s amazing, and everybody is healthy this year. It was just really, really awesome.

North Branch was the Division 2 runner-up a year ago, losing to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the Final. The Broncos downed the Irish in the Regional Final this year, and didn’t drop a set the rest of the way, sweeping Mount Morris in the Quarterfinal and Grand Rapids South Christian in the Semifinal.

The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. So it may have caught some off guard when Cadillac had some early success Saturday night.

Cadillac had North Branch (53-7) on the ropes quickly, jumping out to a 16-9 lead in the first set and forcing the Broncos to take a pair of timeouts over a five-point span.

Vikings middle hitter Carissa Musta, who stands 6-foot-4, was a major reason for that. She had three straight blocks, four total, and two kills during a 10-point run.

While North Branch scrambled to find a way to hit around her, it struggled to get into its offense, and went down 10 before starting to dig out.

“I just said, keep battling guys, keep battling,” North Branch coach Jim Fish said. “That’s the mark of a good team that they’re not going to give up. We didn’t panic, which was good. That’s a huge comeback.”

When the Broncos did dig out, it led to an epic end of the set. North Branch fought off eight Cadillac set points before finally taking the lead back at 29-28. 

Freshman Aubree Deshetsky, who kept the Broncos alive initially with four straight high-pressure serves, had the final three kills of the set to put it away. She had eight kills total in the set.

“Aubree Deshetsky’s a stud,” Fish said. “She’s a stud, she does a lot for our team. We had everybody back, and she forced her way into our lineup. She’s just a great player. She’s going to be heard for the next three years.”

While the first-set defeat could have been a back-breaker for a Cadillac team looking to pull an upset, it did not wilt. The Vikings stood toe-to-toe with the Broncos in the second set, despite playing from behind for nearly all of it.

Cadillac’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block. Cadillac (34-11-4) even tied the set at 18 before Bickel helped North Branch rattle off the final seven points to take it. Bickel had three kills in the final stretch, showing off power and finesse in the process.

The Broncos flexed their muscle in the third set, building a 20-8 lead with eight straight points – seven on Bickel’s serve. Her block then put North Branch a point away, and the match was won on a service error.

“If we could have just gotten one of those set points (in the first set), who knows what would have happened,” Cadillac coach Michelle Brines said. “I was really proud of my team, because I don’t know that people gave us much of a chance at all. And, we just played really tough. We played pretty tough for the first set and a half, then it kind of seemed like we were running out of steam a little bit and they were asserting their will.”

Deshetsky finished with 13 kills and 14 digs for the Broncos, while Clara Gyomory had 12 kills and Bickel had 11. Alana Deshetsky finished with nine kills and 22 digs, Hailey Green had 25 digs and Adrienne Greschaw had 45 assists for the Broncos.

Musta led Cadillac with 16 kills and seven blocks. Brooke Ellens had 23 digs, and Cassie Jenema had 30 assists and 17 digs.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) North Branch celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. (Below) Cadillac’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block.