BATTLE CREEK – Winning the MHSAA Division 1 Volleyball Finals title was the expectation for Bloomfield Hills Marian.
Not just Saturday, when that expectation became reality with a 25-18, 22-25, 25-18, 25-19 win against Ann Arbor Skyline. Not just as the postseason began.
That was the expectation from the time the ball was rolled onto the court for the Mustangs’ first practice in August.
“Although it was a goal, that never made us get complacent or get lazy,” Marian senior and Miss Volleyball winner Ava Brizard said. “We always worked our butts off like we were the underdogs, like we were the last-ranked team in the state. We always worked so hard even though people were expecting us to go back-to-back. But we just kept setting that bar higher and higher for ourselves, and I think that’s what really helped us get to this moment right here.”
The title was the second straight for Marian, and fourth in program history. The Mustangs rolled through the season as Division 1’s top team, going 53-1, and dropping just four sets coming into Saturday’s matchup. All this with a giant target on their collective back.
“I felt this enormous amount of pressure all season,” Marian coach Mayssa Cook said. “As a coach you like to think you have more control than you do. I tried to carry as much of it for them – I knew they had a lot on their plate and a lot on them. I will say I was so impressed with their composure and how they handled stress all season long. I absolutely know the four seniors on this team (Brizard, Janiah Jones, Sophie Treder and Sarah Sylvester) are very ready to step into playing roles at the next level. Most girls going into college don’t have this level of experience, level of play under pressure that they have had. So, we’re exceptionally proud of them as a school.”
Marian did not play like a team under pressure, running out to a double-digit lead in the first set and winning comfortably. But Skyline (55-4-2) came roaring back in the second with an attack led by Harper Murray and Cari Bohm, and handed the Mustangs just their fifth set loss of the season.
“I think we just have the offense that has the ability to compete with them,” Bohm said. “With Harper and me, we have some big hitters – Kate (Maley) -- they haven’t seen that competition yet.”
Marian responded to the rare setback, and while Skyline hung tough for most of the final two sets, Marian simply had too much down the stretch.
“Throughout the game, more of in the second and the later sets, we figured out that their right side defense wasn’t as strong, so we started targeting that,” Skyline senior setter Lauren Lee said. “Toward the end of that last set, they kind of caught onto what we were doing and polished it up.”
Brizard and Murray put on the show they were expected to provide as two of the state’s best attackers, each finishing with 25 kills. Brizard was backed by Treder’s nine kills for Marian, while Ella Schomer had six and Jones and Sylvester each had five.
Ava Sarafa had 44 assists and 12 digs for the Mustangs, who played solid team defense. Brizard led the team with 13 digs, while Lauren Heming had 12 and Treder had 10.
Bohm finished with 11 kills for Skyline, and Lee had 46 assists. Jordan Hall had 21 digs for the Eagles, and Murray added 14.
The trip to the Finals was the first for Skyline in its fifth year as a program. It had qualified for the Semifinals in 2019.
“I think this year it was our focus to get to Battle Creek and be in the Finals, and to give whatever team was on the other side a battle,” Skyline coach Chris Christian said. “I’m proud of these ladies, because they gave Marian a battle. It wasn’t like it was two years ago when we were here and we were just not ready mentally, not really equipped. This time, we were ready, and I think for them to be able to see that anything is possible from where this program started five years ago, we’ve come a long way. There still is room for growth for us.”
PHOTOS (Top) Bloomfield Hills Marian raises the Division 1 championship trophy after finishing a repeat title run Saturday. (Middle) Marian’s Janiah Jones (5) sends a potential kill at the block of Skyline’s Kate Maley (11) and Cari Bohm (18). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Cadillac’s girls volleyball team is quite accustomed to getting flack from opposing teams’ student sections about their socks.
That’s not likely to continue much longer though, thanks to the Vikings’ performance on the court and major college teams becoming similarly equipped.
And their new warm-up shirts tell it all.
“My team has always worn knee socks,” said 23-year veteran Cadillac coach Michelle Brines. “So people will make fun of the team, or they’ll cheer ‘put your socks down’ and this kind of thing.
“This year we finally got shirts saying ‘Fear the Socks,’” she continued. “The knee socks were in back in the day, and we’ve always worn them.”
Now college powerhouse clubs like Texas and Nebraska wear knee socks. The Cornhuskers just went back to them last season — a year calumniating with an appearance in the national championship match. Nebraska and Texas regularly make runs to and beyond the NCAA Elite Eight.
Under Brines, Cadillac too is used to deep postseason runs including six MHSAA Semifinal appearances. The Vikings made their first appearance in the Division 2 Final last November, falling to North Branch.
Cadillac is off to a 17-3-2 start this fall preparing for Division 1 competition, as they moved into that division for this season. The Vikings have their sights on another Big North Conference championship too as they prepare for District play in Grand Haven at the end of October. Cadillac is 4-1 in league play.
The Vikings have been led again this year by all-state middle hitter Carissa Musta. The 6-foot-4 senior is handling the pressure well. Teams celebrating a block of Musta’s hit are quickly shaken off, according to Brines.
“It’s got to be tough when somebody gets all crazy because they just blocked you, but Carissa is very composed,” Brines said. “She never comes off the floor.
“She’s pretty darn good in the back row,” Brines continued. “I am very impressed with her growth and composure.”
Musta topped the 1,000-kill mark earlier this season and became the school’s career leader in blocks this week in a three-set win over Petoskey.
Senior Makenzie Johns, a 6-1 outside hitter, is also an offensive powerhouse for the Vikings. Senior setter Cassie Jenema comes through regularly with kills in addition to her strong defense and serving.
“We have 11 players on our team, and they all play an important role,” Brines noted. “Even though we have a few that really, really stand out, we are not going to be successful if we’re not all doing our job.”
The Vikings also regularly feature three sophomores: Ari Bryant, Grace Zubak and Sophia Clough. All three were on the freshman team last year because of the team’s depth.
Cadillac shared the Big North championship last year with Traverse City Central. They both suffered home losses to each other but picked up road wins. That trend has continued this year as Central handed Cadillac its lone league loss in five sets on the Vikings’ court. They will play again Oct. 4 in Traverse City.
Brines is pleased with her team’s progress at midseason. The Vikings host Alpena on Wednesday and then battle in the Portage Invitational.
“I have never had a season moving people around as much as I have,” Brines said. “I expect to see a lot of growth out of my team as we go into the second half of the season.”
Brines hopes the Vikings will make a run to the Final again this fall so she can become accustomed to a new routine.
“We finally broke through and won that (Friday Semifinal) night game and got to play the next day, which had never happened,” Brines recalled. “I didn’t really know what to do because usually I was going out for dinner with my team because we lost.”
The knee socks are the Vikings' signature also at the freshman and junior varsity levels. “We have all of our levels wear them — it is kind of our thing,” Brines pointed out. “When we walk in we have knee socks, people know we’re Cadillac.
“It’s kind of fun,” she continued. “I am old school.”
Crew socks are allowed in practice, however. Brines and the Vikings seriously considered getting away from their long-standing tradition.
“I used to make them wear them in practice,” Brines said. “One of my players that went on to coach some college and be a head coach herself said ‘Coach, you can’t do (stop wearing them) because that’s what you kind of always done and nobody else wears knee socks.’”
A spokesperson for Nebraska said there’s no real reason Nebraska went back to wearing long socks beyond player preference, and that it seems like that trend is coming back in volleyball.
“Very cool,” Brines said with a smile when she learned of the Cornhuskers response. “So basically, we never went out of style.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cadillac's McKenzie Johns unloads on an attempt during a match. (Middle) Cassie Jenema sets for a teammate during a match. (Below) Ari Bryant keeps the ball in play. (Photos by Marc Vieau/Cadillac News).