Road to state volleyball finals goes through No. 2 ranked Mercy

Author: 
Marty Budner

Farmington Hills Mercy's volleyball program has been nothing short of sensational this millennium.

Watch some practice coverage here.

Since 2000, the Marlins have captured 16 district championships – 14 straight since 2004 — four regional championships and they have played in two final fours. In 2010, Mercy lost the state championship game to Catholic League rival Bloomfield Hills Marian.

Veteran head coach Loretta Vogel, in her ninth season after taking over for Ed Moeller in 2007, believes continuity has keyed the program's success.

"I think what makes us successful is the coaching staff remains fairly consistent," said Vogel, who is assisted by Mallory Kopa, Andrew Thompson, Derek Wililams and Charisse Youmans. "We've all worked together, we know each other and everyone has the same philosophy, so that makes it easy.

"Whether it's our JV or our freshman programs, they are trained with the same concepts," she added. "I truly believe it creates that success. There is never a surprise. Every year, it's the same thing."

A postseason oddity

While the wins keep piling up, there has been a bit of an oddity to Mercy's state tournament lives lately. The Marlins have suffered season-ending losses to the eventual state champion in each of the past three years.

In 2014, Mercy captured the regional crown, but lost in the quarterfinal to Romeo, which went on to defeat Novi in the Class A state title game. The past two seasons, Novi ended Mercy's season in the regional championship game and went on to win back-to-back state titles.

"I guess we like to look at it as they have to get by us," Vogel said. "We've really faced some competitive programs over the years on this side of the state. There's Romeo, Dakota has had a strong program, there's Seaholm and the list goes on. On this side of the state, there are some very successful programs."

Lauren Hunter, a Milford resident in her fourth varsity season, said Mercy has always played well, but other teams have earned the right to advance.

"I think of it as more of a good thing and it's not really frustrating that we lost to those teams," Hunter said. "I feel like (the other teams) won the state championship and they deserved it. I feel like we went out of the tournament to the right team. If we would have beaten them, I think we could have won the state championship."

Mercy, with eight returning players and a key starter back in the fold, has its sights set on another strong season. The roster includes players from all four classes, including three freshmen.

The Marlins are ranked No. 2 in the state, trailing only Rockford, by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. They own a 15-3 record — two losses to Rockford — and already have scored championship hardware after winning both the Notre Dame Prep and Mercy tournament titles.

"I'm happy where the girls are at right now," Vogel said. "I think the girls really put in the time. We just come in every day at practice and we work on things. We always try to step back and realize what we do in practice today.

"I just know how today went and I expect to see those skills tomorrow. Let's just try to perfect what we worked on today," she added. "And that's the extent of where I look. I'm just worried about tomorrow. I think the kids understand that, because that is what's demanded from me."

A competitive group 

Vogel's two seniors are Hunter and Libby Miodonski.

Hunter heads into the 2017 campaign as one of Mercy's top outside left-front hitters. An honorable mention all-state pick last year, Hunter is also considered a strong on-court leader.

Miodonski missed all of last year because of an ACL injury, but remained close to the program by serving as a team manager. Vogel is overjoyed to have her back on the court.

Juniors Logan Beyer (outside hitter), Grace Kane (defensive specialist), Emily Susitko (outside hitter) and Mallory Conrad (middle hitter), plus sophomores Kayla Shields (libero) and Jess Mruzik (outside hitter) are a few other players Vogel is counting on. Murzik made third team all-state last year as a freshman.

"Everyone has done some really nice things for us," Vogel said. "The girls are very competitive and I think that's what makes this year special for everyone.

"I think the strength of our team is that we think the game. We have that strong mindset," she added. "We get excited, but it's not a guessing game with us. We have a true thought process."

Looking to improve

Mercy simply looks to improve by the time the Catholic League and state tournaments roll along. The Marlins would love to add a 15th straight district crown to their showcase and challenge for a spot in the final four.

"I knew we would be good this year, but I am very impressed with the level of play of the new varsity girls this year," said Hunter, a freshman on the 2014 team that lost in the quarterfinals to Romeo. "They are very mature and they know what's expected of them. They all know how to work hard and do their part.

"I have been playing with some of these girls for the past three years and we have a lot of returning players who were starters coming back. We play well together and we understand each other's personalities. We understand how to motivate one another and we know how to get a lot out of one another. We're a confident team.

"I definitely think we can get far in the state tournament again. This year, we're on a different side of the bracket," she added. "So I definitely think we can win our district, win our region and, hopefully, get to the final four. That's our main goal."

Top Five Class A rankings:

  1. Rockford (20-1)
  2. Mercy (13-3)
  3. Lake Orion (25-3)
  4. Novi (12-2)
  5. Clarkston (14-6)

Through Week 4 by Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association