Bloomfield Hills Marian long has been a state volleyball powerhouse, and was the class of Division 1 the last two seasons with Ava Brizard leading the Mustangs to back-to-back championships. The now-graduated 6-foot-1 outside hitter earned the Miss Volleyball Award during her senior season as she posted with 591 kills including 25 in the championship match win over Ann Arbor Skyline.
Marian finished 53-1 on the season, and Brizard also was named first-team All-America by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. She has moved on to begin her college athletic and academic careers at North Carolina State, where she is studying business administration.
"It’s just incredible. Getting to compete at the highest level and being able to represent my school and my family and myself, it’s just an incredible honor and I am so glad that I get the opportunity to go out and do what I love every day and be able to compete.
“And also just being able to know that by me getting a chance to go out there and showcase my abilities, I can inspire future generations of other young girls to go out there and work hard and pursue their dreams in athletics and show the world that girls can do it too.”
Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.
Previous Title IX at 50 Spotlights
Aug. 16: Paige Miller's Story - Read
Aug. 9: Gracie Olsen's Story - Read
Aug. 2: Maddy Stern's Story - Read
July 26: Reese Miller's Story - Read
July 19: Macy Irelan's Story - Read
July 12: Bridget Boczar's Story - Read
July 5: Ella Boose's Story - Read
June 28: Kaila Jackson's Story - Read
June 23: We Celebrate Our Past, We Look Forward to Our Future - Read
June 21: Assistant Directors Have Been Difference Makers - Read
June 14: Girls Lacrosse Finals Officials Set Empowering Example - Read
June 7: From Gymnastics to Wrestling, Girls Opportunities Continue to Grow - Read
May 31: Mumford Sprinter's Magnificent 2006 Final Remains Unmatched - Read
May 24: Scane, Whiteside Alone on 400-Goal, 500-Point Girls Lacrosse Lists - Read
May 17: Over 8 Days in 1988, Pair of Champs Set No. 1 Singles Standard - Read
May 10: Portage Central's Tarpley Scores as State's Superstar, U.S. Soccer Hero - Read
May 3: Prychitko 'Legend In Her Own Time,' Legend for All Time - Read
April 26: Braddock vs. Verdun Still Striding Among All-Time Sprint Matchups - Read
April 19: Holmes' Strikeout Record Rarely Approached, May Be Unbreakable - Read
April 12: Anticipation High as 45,000 Girls Return to Spring Sports - Read
April 5: Regina's Laffey Retiring as Definition of Legendary - Read
March 29: Edison's Whitehorn named 2022 Miss Basketball - Read
March 22: Carney-Nadeau Sets Girls Hoops Standard with 78-Win Streak - Read
March 15: Binder Among Voices Telling Our Story on MHSAA Network - Read
March 8: 28 Years, Thousands of Cheers - Read
March 1: Kearsley Rolls On Among Girls Bowling's Early Successes - Read
Feb. 22: Marquette Ties Record for Swim & Dive Finals Success - Read
Feb. 15: Jaeger's 2004 Winter Run Created Lasting Connection - Read
Feb. 8: Marian's Cicerone to Finish Among All-Time Elite - Read
Feb. 1: WISL Award Honors Builders of State's Girls Sports Tradition - Read
Jan. 25: Decades Later, Edwards' Legend Continues to Grow - Read
Jan. 18: Iron Mountain Completes Championship Climb - Read
Jan. 11: Harrold's Achievement Heralds Growth of Girls Wrestling - Read
Dec. 20: Competitive Cheer Gives Michigan Plenty to Cheer About - Read
Dec. 14: Evelyn's Game Had Plenty of Magic - Read
Dec. 7: Council Term Ends, But Leinaar Leaves Lasting Impact - Read
Nov. 30: Basketball Season Ready to Add to Rich Tradition - Read
Nov. 23: Marysville Builds Winning Streak Yet to be Challenged - Read
Nov. 16: Wroubel Has Championed Girls School Sports from Their Start - Read
Nov. 9: Pioneer's Joyce Legendary in Michigan, National Swim History - Read
Nov. 2: Royal Oak's Finch Leading Way on Football Field - Read
Oct. 26: Coach Clegg Sets Championship Standard at Grand Blanc - Read
Oct. 19: Rockford Girls Set Pace, Hundreds After Have Continued to Chase - Read
Oct. 12: Bedford Volleyball Pioneer Continues Blazing Record-Setting Trail - Read
Oct. 5: Warner Paved Way to Legend Status with Record Rounds - Read
Sept. 28: Taylor Kennedy Gymnasts Earn Fame as 1st Champions - Read
Sept. 21: Portage Northern Star Byington Becomes Play-by-Play Pioneer - Read
Sept. 14: Guerra/Groat Legacy Continues to Serve St. Philip Well - Read
Sept. 7: Best-Ever Conversation Must Include Leland's Glass - Read
Aug. 31: We Will Celebrate Many Who Paved the Way - Read
BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Mayssa Cook said she had a suggestion for then 11-year-old Ava Sarafa upon first seeing Sarafa training on a volleyball court.
Cook knew Sarafa already had the tools to be an elite volleyball player, given her height and skills, but put a figurative bug in her ear while watching Sarafa go from doing hitting drills to setting.
“At the time she was a hitter,” Cook said. “After she set a few balls, we just kind of had a conversation that, ‘you should maybe take setting more seriously.’ Obviously from that point on, she did.”
Now a senior for annual state powerhouse Bloomfield Hills Marian, Sarafa is more than just the latest Miss Volleyball Award finalist and future Division I college player to come through the program.
Taking it further, even a program like Marian’s hasn’t quite seen a setter like Sarafa.
Earlier this season, Sarafa surpassed 4,000 assists for her career to become the 16th player in state history to eclipse that mark.
As of Tuesday, Sarafa had a little more than 4,300 career assists and said she has a goal of eclipsing the 5,000 mark, although the state record of 5,790 set by Novi’s Erin O’Leary might be out of reach.
Sarafa was the main distributor for Marian’s Division 1 championship-winning team last year and next month plans to officially sign to play in college for Kentucky.
Cook said Sarafa’s high school career got going right away when she pulled off the rare feat of cracking the starting lineup as a freshman.
“Very few setters really start their freshman year on varsity and play the entire time,” said Cook, who is in her fifth season as Marian’s head coach. “Ava had a composure and a maturity about her as a freshman, and with skills to back it up, that allowed her to be able to take on that role, and do it very well. Four years later, she’s been that much better every year.”
After taking to heart the suggestion to become a setter, Sarafa said it did take a few months to adjust to the nuances of the position.
However, it didn’t take her long at all to fall in love with it.
“I think the thing I really love about being a setter is being able to help benefit your teammates and put them in a really good spot to score,” Sarafa said. “Also being able to touch the ball every single play. It keeps you very involved in the momentum of the sport, and being able to run the court and know what’s going on with everyone. Being able to know your hitters personally (and) what they appreciate on the court has really touched me in a way. Having that control, pressure and insight on the game made me love it.”
Sarafa also embraces the strategic thinking and anticipation required to be a setter, which differs greatly from the demands of being a hitter or a libero.
“Setting, you need to look with peripheral vision, you need to learn where the blockers are and if they are jumping with your hitters,” Sarafa said. “I think it does (require) excess training to develop and work on.”
Marian is the two-time reigning champion in Division 1 and up to 27-0 this fall as naturally the heavy favorite to make it a three-peat come November. Sarafa actually is one of two Miss Volleyball candidates on the roster; Ella Schomer also is in the mix for the award given to the state's top senior.
Sarafa admitted it’s been a bit different going for three championships in a row with the huge target on Marian’s back, especially since the Mustangs as of Sept. 22 were ranked No. 4 nationally in the USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Super 25.
“We need everyone to give 100-percent effort to succeed,” Sarafa said. “It’s not dependent on one person. It depends on everyone giving in to what we’re doing. When the playoffs start, we’re going to see teams that are very competitive and have a lot of great talent on their teams. Everyone just needs to realize that ‘this is it; what you’re doing right now matters.’ It’s just a big team effort, and we need to work for it.”
With one of the country’s top prep setters on Marian’s side once again, it will take one talented team to prevent a three-peat for the Mustangs.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Marian’s Ava Sarafa prepares to serve during last season’s Division 1 Final against Ann Arbor Skyline. (Middle) Sarafa, far right, celebrates a point with her teammates during the championship match win.