With heavy hitters all over the place, Farmington Hills Mercy put the hammer down against Livonia Stevenson in Thursday’s Class A regional girls volleyball final.
The Marlins rolled to a 25-9 win in the opening set and continued their relentless attack in Game 2, prevailing 25-10 despite a nice string of serves by Spartans sophomore Erin Pietruszka.
In the third set, Mercy faced some trials and tribulations — with Pietruszka again serving up a couple aces to get the Spartans out to a short-lived 3-0 lead — before closing things out with a 25-18 win.
Going up for the clinching block were senior Lauren Hunter and freshman Charli Atiemo, triggering a happy celebration on the court at Farmington High School.
Mercy (49-7-1) advances to face New Baltimore Anchor Bay in a Class A quarterfinal 7 p.m. Tuesday at West Bloomfield.
“I thought we really played the ball well,” Marlins head coach Loretta Vogel said. “I thought our setter, (freshman) Julia Bishop, ran the offense extremely well tonight.
“Compliments to their No. 7 (Pietruszka), the server, she got us caught a couple times. It allowed them to think they were going to get back in the game.”
Bishop registered 40 assists, distributing the ball nicely to hard-hitting attackers such as sophomore Jess Mruzik (12 kills), junior Logan Beyer (10 kills) and Atiemo (seven kills).
Strong up front
Also wreaking havoc on the Spartans with some timely kills and blocks was junior Mallory Conrad.
“I just think we improved so much as a team, we bond so well together and it’s so important on the court,” Conrad said. “We all have the skill to play, so when we’re all out there together we’re just having fun.
“Our defense is really picking it up for these playoff games, our blocks this game were huge. ... We were stopping their offense. We did a really good job on keeping runs and limiting theirs.”
For Stevenson (26-20), top performers included Pietruszka (six aces, five assists), senior Claire Beaudoin (seven digs), senior Audrey Lackey (six digs) and senior Julia Bice (five assists). Helping the cause with three kills each were sophomores Libby Cleaveland and Koryn Parmenter.
“They did a good job controlling the net, both blocking and hitting,” Spartans head coach Julian Wargo said. “We were swinging well, I thought we were serving well. I thought we did serve-receive well.
“We’re a little younger than they are, and I thought we brought everything we could.”
Beaudoin, one of five Stevenson seniors playing their final game for the squad (along with Lackey, Bice, Monica Weinrauch and Emilie Wassermann) said she didn’t think the Marlins “outworked us but they’re definitely bigger than us. They have big hitters.”
Following are several takeaways from the contest:
The Marlins boast a lineup featuring several freshmen and sophomores, without missing a beat.
“It’s a good blend. I don’t think you could differentiate a senior versus a freshman out there tonight,” Vogel said.
Chiming in about Mercy’s deep and talented roster was freshman Maddi Malecki. “Each girl does their part, and when we all do our part it just makes things a lot easier.”
Mruzik gave props to Vogel and the rest of the Mercy coaching staff for knowing when to let up on the gas pedal during late-season practices.
“A lot of coaches at the end of the year push their teams to go super hard preparing for playoffs,” Mruzik said. “But our coaches have done a really nice job ... knowing when to take breaks. Some days we’ll have a serve-receive, then a scouting report kind of day. Whereas a lot of other coaches will go full-on, two-hour practices every day.
“It’s helped our bodies a lot preparing for this long of a season. Once you’re physically worn out, you’re not playing at your best. And once you’re not playing at your best your mind kind of goes with it too.”
Although Mercy showed it was the better team throughout the evening, there were times when the Spartans appeared ready to cut into the deficit — only to serve a ball into the net or miss the mark on spike attempts, giving freebies to the Marlins.
SERVING IT UP
Pietruszka sparked the Spartans with some nifty serving, but Mercy always limited the damage.
“When I get an ace I just go crazy and my team does as well,” Pietruszka said. “I’m glad I was on point.
“They’re very athletic, high verticals. They’re a very good team. But I think we played our best.”
Wargo congratulated the Marlins on their regional title. He also praised his group.
“The way I look at it, we’ve been preaching all season either we win or we learn,” he said. “And we learned a lot tonight about what it means to be competitive and what it means to move on to the next round.
“I’m graduating five and I could be returning nine. I’m very excited about what our future looks like.”