Miss Volleyball Paces Mercy to 1st Final Win

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 23, 2019

BATTLE CREEK – Jess Mruzik spent most of Saturday afternoon putting dents in the court at Kellogg Arena.  

But with the opportunity to seal Farmington Hills Mercy’s first MHSAA Division 1 volleyball title at her fingertips, Miss Volleyball showed some touch. 

Mruzik’s tip sealed a 25-21, 25-12, 23-25, 26-24 victory against Lowell, finally giving the perennial contenders the big mitten trophy. 

“I knew as soon as I got blocked (at 24-23) that, ‘Man, I probably shouldn’t have done that,’” Mruzik said. “I knew what I was going to do right after that. I knew that I made a mistake there, and I just wanted to win that point and win it for my team.” 

Mruzik’s tip capped off a 34-kill night, the third-most prolific attacking performance in Finals history. 

“It’s unreal,” Mruzik said. “This is the best way you can end your high school career, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in such an amazing program with amazing coaches and amazing teammates. Honestly, that wouldn’t have been possible without all the passers passing great passes, Julia (Bishop) feeding me the ball pretty much perfect every single time. That’s something I’m fortunate to have.” 

The final kill may not have hit with the same thud as the others, but it set off a celebration several years in the making. Mercy (58-1) has spent much of coach Loretta Vogel’s 11 years leading the program as a highly-ranked team, but its best finish was as Class A runner-up in 2010.  

As her team piled up in celebration near the net, Vogel couldn’t help but join in. 

“I had to,” Vogel said. “You don’t know whether it’s going to happen again. (Bishop) said it once in an interview, ‘I just want to be in a pile at the end of the game.’ You do think of that. It doesn’t happen very often, so I joined.” 

Vogel brought her entire team into the postgame press conference to drive home the point of how special this group was. 

"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. Why I wanted everyone here is that they’re (together) every day, and they’re very close. In the end, they like each other, also.” 

Mercy won a hard-fought first set, but showed its ability to dominate in the second, ruthlessly wiping out a 9-4 deficit and taking the set’s final 13 points to take a 2-0 lead. 

But after that, the Marlins faced something they had rarely seen all year: adversity. 

Lowell managed to dig deep and take the third set, despite giving up another lead. The Red Arrows led 20-15, but Mercy came back to tie the match at 22. Lowell stayed mentally strong, though, and won three of the next four points to keep its season alive and force a fourth set. 

The Red Arrows again had a lead in the fourth, this time going up 15-12 midway through. The two teams traded points and mini runs until they were tied at 23 and 24, setting up the final two kills from Mruzik to end it. 

“In the fourth game, I was getting a little nervous,” Vogel said. “But we were able to stay with the plan. I think a lot of times when we get in our timeouts, it’s not just all the coaches talking about things, but the players knowing who we need to watch, giving suggestions. I think that was extremely helpful not just today, but any of our matches we’ve had this year. This one was obviously real tight, but we had one other that was extremely difficult, too.” 

Lowell (55-4) – which had handed Mercy its one loss of the season, albeit early in the year while Mruzik was playing in a tournament overseas – did a good job of making Vogel and the top-ranked Marlins sweat despite falling in a 2-0 hole. 

“That’s a great team on the other side of the net, obviously,” Lowell coach Jordan Drake said. “I’m super proud of the way our girls fought the entire time. It was a familiar feeling after Set 1 dropping it, but our girls just came out and fought, still. Set 2 got a little ugly there at the end. Set 3 we came out hot, took them there. Set 4, we had our chances, but they made some plays on the other side of the net, so credit to them. But I’m proud of the way our girls fought, for sure.” 

Junior Jenna Reitsma had 22 kills and 12 digs for Lowell, while senior Meghan Meyer had 17 kills. Junior setter Sophia Powell had 40 assists coordinating the Lowell attack.  

Mruzik, who will play at University of Michigan next year, added 15 digs, while junior setter Bishop had 54 assists. Junior Ellen Tisko had 14 kills, and sophomore Amina Robinson had 22 digs.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Farmington Hills Mercy’s Jess Mruzik sends a kill between a pair of Lowell blockers Saturday. (Middle) The Red Arrows’ Meghan Meyer (5) gets a hand on an attempt by Mercy’s Charli Atiemo.

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

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

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.