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.

Fear the Socks: Cadillac Volleyball Success Never Out of Style

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

September 22, 2023

Cadillac’s girls volleyball team is quite accustomed to getting flack from opposing teams’ student sections about their socks.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat’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.

Cassie Jenema sets for a teammate during a match. 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.”

Ari Bryant keeps the ball in play.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 SpencerTom 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).