Pair of Catholic school teams fall in hunt for state volleyball title

Top-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy (Division 1) and No. 2-ranked Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (Division 2) each fell short in the respective schools' title hunts last week, with Mercy falling to No. 2-ranked Lake Orion and Notre Dame Prep dropping its match against Grand Rapids Christian. 

In the grand scheme of goings-on in the sports world, it seems appropriate that a No. 1-ranked team would beat a No. 2-ranked team.

If just the opposite occurs, then we have what sports terminology defines as an “upset.”

Here are two examples:

UPSET! No. 2 beats No. 1: Farmington Hills Mercy had been rated the best of Division 1 volleyball teams all season long, and Lake Orion a notch behind as second-best. They had faced each other four times during the season, with Mercy winning three of the contests.

So, when they met for the fifth time last Friday in an MHSAA semi-final, they were aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The stakes were high for both teams: a chance to play the next day and win their first state championship. Both had been in the finals once before, and lost: Lake Orion in 2011 against Rockford, Mercy in 2010 against CHSL rival Bloomfield Hills Marian.

As expected, the match went the five-set limit. Mercy took command early and won the first set, 25-21. Lake Orion did likewise in the second set, bolting out to a 20-9 lead en route to a 25-18 win to tie the match at one set apiece.

The third set was a nerve-wracking lulu. Mercy fell behind 10-5, rallied six points in a row for a 16-15 lead, only to trail again 24-22, and rally again to tie at 25 and go on to win 27-25, needing just one more win to advance to the finals.

Mercy led 18-15 in the fourth set before Lake Orion responded with a 10-2 run for a 25-20 win to tie the match at 2-sets apiece, and kept the momentum into the deciding fifth set for a 15-13 victory.

The game difference-maker was Lake Orion’s senior Paige Briggs, whom Mercy had handled well enough during the regular season. Mercy had no answer this time for her bombardment of 43 kills. Briggs, who reportedly committed to Western Kentucky, is listed as 5-foot-10. She appeared to be 10-foot-5 to the Marlins, unloading from literally every spot of the court.

She fired five consecutive kills to seal Lake Orion’s fourth-set victory, and then nine more in the fifth set, including the match-winning point.

Mercy’s junior Jess Mruzik finished with 27 kills and 13 digs while senior Ella Loussia had 10 kills, sophomore Julia Bishop had 44 assists and five kills, and junior Kayla Shields added 17 digs.

Oh, Briggs kept on shooting with 30 kills to pace Lake Orion’s state championship win against Rockford.

AS EXPECTED: No 1 beats No. 2: For most of the season, Grand Rapids Christian and former CHSL member Pontiac Notre Dame Prep were ranked 1-2 in Division 2 volleyball. Christian was methodical in dismissing the Fighting Irish, 25-17, 25-18, 25-21 for its first-ever state title. Notre Dame Prep was aiming to repeat as division champs.

Seniors Madeline Chinn (Purdue), Maria Famularo (Slippery Rock), and Natalie Risi (Ball State) led the Irish offense. Miss Volleyball winner Chinn finished with a team-high 17 kills while Risi had 14 kills and 12 assists. Famularo had 14 digs and 14 assists.

In her four-year varsity career, Chinn had a MHSAA record 2,502 kills, 523 blocks and 1,392 digs.