Marian defeats Clarkston in five-set marathon, advances to Division 1 final

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Battle Creek — Birmingham Marian saved its best for last Friday evening at Kellogg Arena, battling back to defeat Clarkston, 22-25, 25-18, 11-25, 25-21, 15-11 in a Division 1 state semifinal volleyball match that lasted more than two hours.

Marian (34-5) will attempt to win its first state title since 2010 when it faces Lowell on Saturday at 2.

Marian third-year coach Mayssa (Bazzi) Cook feels her team played just good enough to win Friday and expects Marian to bring its “A” game for the title match.

“I felt Clarkston brought their A-game and I believe we’ll bring our A-game tomorrow,” Cook said. “We got to 15 first in the fifth set and it came down to more experience and trust in each other.”

Despite not having a senior on the team, Marian showed why it knocked defending state champion Farmington Hills Mercy out of the tournament in the regionals by pulling out the win in the final two sets.

“We’re resilient, had faced great competition (to prepare us), won in five twice against Mercy,” Cook said. “I thought we served more aggressively (down the stretch) and got them out of system more.”

Marian’s players were shaken after learning  longtime athletic director David Feldman, 65, had died due to COVID-19.

“It was absolutely a devastating loss,” said Cook of Feldman. “He had been in the hospital for five weeks and we truly believed he’d eventually get better, so it was a big shock. I did get word during practice yesterday that the hospital called the family to immediately come to the hospital and, as a nurse, I know that’s never a good sign.

“We talked a lot this morning with the team and I could tell that they were emotional, and I could tell they had been crying, just the eyes. We talked about honoring Dave and how he loved every single athlete at Marian and how he supported us and cared about all of them individually. We just talked about being focused and playing for him.

“His daughter is coming up tomorrow. I was just on the phone with her and she said, ‘Our whole family is crying and so happy about this match.’”

Marian had the size advantage and 6-foot-1 junior outside hitter Ava Brizard had 22 kills and 17 digs, but just a .176 hitting percentage as Marian hit .126 as a team. Sarah Sylvester, a 6-3 junior middle hitter, had seven kills and 6-1 junior outside hitter Sophia Treder had nine kills and 13 digs. Ava Sarafa, a 6-0 sophomore setter, had 43 assists and 14 digs and sophomore libero Lauren Heming had 29 digs.

“I just told the girls I’m super proud of them, getting to this point is a huge undertaking,” Clarkston coach Kelly Pinner said. “Marian’s a great team and they have a lot of weapons and we didn’t have answers for some of them. Number 7 (Brizard) swings hard and is tough to defend.”

Said Brizard: “We just play our game and work so hard. There hasn’t been a moment where the team let up and it’s paid off to get us to the finals. I would definitely say playing Mercy in those games gave us a lot of preparation for this. We learned a lot about ourselves when we played them. It showcased our errors and we learned from them.”

Claire Nowicki, a 5-11 senior outside hitter, had 22 kills and 18 digs with a .254 hitting percentage for Clarkston (28-9) which hit .172 as a team. Paige Giehtbrock, a 6-0 sophomore outside hitter, had 13 kills and 18 digs and senior setter Shay Bordine, 35 assists.

Novi falls in semifinal

Novi pushed the second Division 1 state semifinal to a fifth and deciding set after fighting off a Set 4 match point only to have Lowell come away with a 17-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-27, 15-6 victory in a two-hour, 11-minute thriller.

In doing so, Novi (28-5-1) made Miss Volleyball runner-up Jenna Reitsma (Marquette) earn every one of her 41 kills with seven coming in the fifth set where she also had an ace to display her all-around ability.

Reitsma, a 5-11 senior outside hitter, had her 41 kills in an incredible 127 attempts for a .244 hitting percentage as Lowell (35-4) hit at a .179 clip as a team. Setter Sophie Powell had 48 assists and 16 digs.

Novi's Sarah Vellucci

“I think in the moments that got away from us it was more worry about what they were doing in opposed to what we were doing,” Novi coach Kacy Byron said.

On Reitsma?

“I think that she presents a lot of trouble to every single defense, she is extremely knowledgeable of the game, her volleyball IQ really shows when she goes out there,” Byron said.

“She goes line, then she goes cross, then she rolls shots and then goes back to line and as soon as you start picking up one thing she goes to a different area of the court, not to mention I thought that she served really aggressively against us and she played great defense, so overall I look at her and think, ‘Wow, that was beyond a five-star effort and shows why she’s going to Marquette, which is a great Division 1 volleyball school.’”

Still, Novi’s players dug out a lot of Reitsma’s kill attempts.

“One of the best compliments is just talking to coach (Lowell’s Jordan Drake) after the game and he said you dig a lot of balls, really dig a lot of balls and keep the rallies going and that’s the biggest thing when you’re playing somebody like that, just try to extend the rally as long as you can and hope that one of your hitters is going to finish it or set somebody else, but overall she’s hard to stop.”

Sarah Vellucci, a 6-0 sophomore outside hitter, had 16 kills for Novi with senior middle blocker Megha Gondi contributing 14 kills and a .414 hitting percentage and junior setter Rachel Karr, 44 assists.

Oakland Christian advances

Auburn Hills Oakland Christian moved on to the Division 4 state championship match Friday afternoon with a 25-23, 21-25, 25-19, 25-20 semifinal win over Carney-Nadeau.

Oakland Christian (27-4), looking for its first state title, will face 20-time state champion Battle Creek St. Phillip (22-13) in Saturday’s 10 a.m. title match.

Oakland Christian battled back from a 23-17 Set 1 deficit to win the opener behind the serving of Hailee Ide, then bounced back from a Set 2 loss to win the next two to move on.

Kaylee Page, a 5-7 outside hitter, had 21 kills and 18 digs to lead Oakland Christian, which also received 40 assists and 14 digs from setter Katie Hopkins and 10 kills from Kylie Morga and 21 digs and great serving from Ide.

“We talked before the game about words to describe us and hard-working and determined were some of them and we lived up to it,” Page said. “We all saw that we were down, and we talked about what it would take to get back. We communicated and said, ‘Let’s buy-in,’ and we knew we weren’t going to lose that (opening) set.”

Liana Blahnik had 18 kills and a .304 hitting percentage for Carney-Nadeau, which also had 14 kills from Taylor Kedsch and 34 assists from Haley Ernest.

In St. Philip’s 25-13, 25-20, 25-19 sweep of Mesick, Brooke Dzwik had 30 kills and 19 digs for St. Philip which received 45 assists and 11 digs from Rachel Myers.