Battle Creek — Farmington Hills Mercy traveled to Kellogg Arena to compete in the State Volleyball Finals the previous two years only to come home following semifinal losses.
There was definitely something different about this trip for Mercy.
Mercy made the trip to Battle Creek as the state’s No. 1 team this time, bringing along Miss Volleyball award winner, 6-foot-2 outside hitter Jess Mruzik.
Mruzik looked and played the part of the state’s top player in leading Mercy to a dominating, 25-13, 25-15, 25-15 sweep of Ann Arbor Skyline in a Division 1 semifinal that lasted less than an hour Thursday night.
Mruzik hit with authority in the opening set while collecting nine kills with an impressive .529 hitting percentage as her team hit at a .394 clip.
Mruzik, who will play at Michigan, never let down, nor did her teammates in keeping the pressure on Skyline (54-9) which won its first regional title this month.
Mruzik had eight more kills in Set 2 and finished with 26 and a .510 hitting percentage. Mercy hit .407 as a team with 6-2 junior middle blocker Ellen Tisko finishing with 11 kills and a .417 hitting percentage.
“I think our mindset coming into this game was a lot different than the past two years that we’ve been here,” Mruzik said. “Last year we were obviously focused on the year before, we were playing with the mindset not to lose and we came into this year that we want to win, and we’re not focusing on losing, we’re focusing on our side of the net, have to trust the process and I think tonight we did a nice job and got what we wanted.
“I was kind of worried about this match just from the mental perspective. Our team did a really nice job. We were really head-strong today and that’s what got us through this match. I was playing for my team tonight. We came in with a ton of energy and that’s when we play our best. We play our best when we’re having fun and have a lot of energy. We wanted to be in the match on Saturday and that’s where we are now.”
Mercy (57-1) will try to earn its first state championship when it takes on No. 2 Lowell in the title match at 2 p.m. Saturday. Lowell, also seeking its first title, defeated defending state champion Lake Orion, 17-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-15.
Mercy and Lowell split their two regular-season matches with Lowell coming out on top while Mruzik was in Cairo earning MVP honors while leading the U.S. Girls Youth National Team to the U-18 World Championship.
Mercy junior setter Julia Bishop played at a high level, too, getting 43 assists while serving the ball well, including five straight service points to open an 8-2 Set 1 lead.
“We played really well tonight,” Mercy coach Loretta Vogel said. “These are big games for all of us and we could tell when we were practicing today that everyone was prepared and ready. There was a lot of enthusiasm.”
Freshman outside hitter Harper Murray had 13 kills for Skyline and her older sister, Kendall Murray, a Miss Volleyball finalist who will be Mruzik's teammate next year at Michigan, had seven kills and seven digs.
In the first semifinal match, Jenna Reitsma and No. 2 Lowell settled down after a Set 1 loss to defeat Lake Orion.
Reitsma, a 5-11 junior outside hitter, started putting the ball down with authority in the second set when Lowell (55-3) battled back from a 6-1 deficit, then had eight kills in Set 3 to give Lowell the momentum. She finished with a match-high 29 kills.
It was a surprise return to Battle Creek for Lake Orion (39-16-2) which returned just one starter while losing 10 seniors from last year’s team.
Lake Orion 6-2 junior middle hitter Reagan Goeke set the tempo in the opening set, getting block after block after block to help her team take leads of 8-2, then 20-11 and finally putting the finishing touches to the Set 1 win.
Goeke’s teammate, junior Taylor Butkiewicz, took over early in the second set, getting a block, followed by a kill during a 4-0 run before Lowell regrouped and settled down to turn things around.
“We felt that the pressure was all on them, they were the favorites all year coming in, and also the two previous times we played them during the season they handled us relatively easily, so we thought just come in with a good game plan and try to get on them early because it’s their first time in this environment,” Lake Orion coach Tony Scavarda said.
“I thought this was kind of all gravy from what we went through in this postseason, nobody expected us probably to get past our first district match. We were underdogs a couple of times in the postseason and got through it. That first set and a half I felt was some of our best volleyball of the season and then Lowell just picked up their game and we couldn’t quite match it.
“We had a game plan, we knew we were going to key on No. 4 (Reitsma), and it worked and then they started hitting different shots and finding open spots on the court which is credit to them. They’re a great team, especially No. 4, she can hit pretty much any spot on the court. We knew she was going to be tough, she wasn’t going to just go away.”
Sophie Powell had 41 assists for Lowell.
“They played really well in the first set, blocked the crap out of the ball,” Lowell coach Jordan Drake said of Lake Orion. “They took away what we were going to try to do to them, so we had to make an adjustment there after that first set.”
So, what was the adjustment?
“Just a couple of blocking things on our side of the net and moving Jenna around a little bit more,” Drake said. “We had played them two times earlier and had a lot of success running the five against them in the middle with Jenna. They were ready for us, so we just had to move her around more and beat them in transition with our middles.”
All semifinals and finals at Kellogg Arena, Battle Creek
Mendon def. Southfield Christian, 27-25, 17-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-13
Leland def. Rudyard, 25-21, 25-14, 25-15
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Lowell def. Lake Orion, 17-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-15
Farmington Hills Mercy def. Ann Arbor Skyline, 25-13, 25-15, 25-15
Final: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Saginaw Valley Lutheran (40-8-5) vs. Schoolcraft (47-6-1), noon
Monroe St. Mary CC (48-2) vs. Beaverton (46-1-1), 2 p.m.
Final: Saturday, noon
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (48-10-2) vs. Lake Odessa Lakewood (39-12), 4:30 p.m.
Kingsley (58-7-3) vs. Grand Rapids Christian (44-3), 6:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 4 p.m.