‘Unbelievable!’ Mercy claims state championships in volleyball, swimming and golf

Down two sets, Mercy’s volleyball squad rallied to tie the match and then win the tiebreaker against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern for the MHSAA Division 1 championship, its first since 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Mercy Athletic Department)

FARMINGTON HILLS — “Unbelievable!”

That was coach Loretta Vogel’s spontaneous outburst as Mercy players and coaches piled atop one another on the Battle Creek Kellogg Arena volleyball floor last Saturday afternoon celebrating their Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 championship.

Three days later at a victory banquet, she was still in a state of disbelief. “I almost had to pinch myself,” she said.

The Marlins, who were voted out of the final top-10 ratings compiled weekly by volleyball coaches from around the state, were the decided underdog heading into the quarterfinals facing no less than their Catholic High School League arch-nemesis, No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Marian, the three-time defending champion. They had split four matches during the season.

Mercy swept the Mustangs. “That was everything for me,” Vogel said. “We planned, we knew what we wanted to do, and we went in there and it was three games — bing, bang, boom, here we go.”

Next, the semifinals and another sweep, over No. 3 Clarkston.

Mercy’s challenge now was a formidable one, posed by No. 5 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, who had disposed of No. 1 Hudsonville, No. 8 Byron Center and No. 2 Northville.

Northern won the first two sets, 25-13 and 25-23. “Some of the things you can’t calculate,” Vogel said, “is how nervous your players are. At the beginning, we had trouble passing. Their serves took us out of our game. They were faster. We were one step slower. It took us a while to speed up. Things started to turn in our favor.”

Vogel, in her 16th year at Mercy, added: “For many of the players, they’ve been in situations like this whether in high school or on a club. They play so much they can zone in and do what they need to do.”

Mercy (32-15-3) won the third set 25-21 and the fourth 25-22 to force a fifth and deciding set. The Marlins took an early 4-3 lead and maintained the advantage for a 15-12 victory.

Freshman Kate Kalczynski had 25 kills and sophomore Cree Hollier 10. Junior Campbell Flynn directed the offense with 41 assists. On defense, junior Jillian Collins led with 24 digs, senior Angie Butler 22, sophomore Maya Zarow 16 and Flynn 15.

Vogel directed Mercy to the 2019 state title. Marian, coached by Mayssa Cook, won the the 2020-21-22 crowns to make it five in a row for the CHSL Central Division.

Mercy swimmers and golfers just as 'unbelievable'

Athletic director Brandon Malinowski, the father of three boys, is just as proud of the girls at Mercy, particularly this fall with three state championships.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “We have great coaches, great leadership and everyone works hard.”

On the same day as the volleyball team was winning in Battle Creek, Mercy’s swimmers in Holland overwhelmed their opponents for the Division 2 swim and dive title by a margin of 128 points.

The Marlins won just three events, but relied on their depth and talent.

It’s Mercy’s 12th state championship, the fourth (others in 2017-18-19) under current coach Mike Venos.

In October, Mercy’s golfers repeated as state Division 2 champs in spite of the fact that its No. 1 player, junior Maeve Casey, who had a 73 the first day, would not be with them the second day to keep a commitment to play hockey in Minnesota.

Senior Abby Slankster, who shot an 80 the first day, came to the rescue with a career-best 70 the second day to lead the Marlins to a 17-stroke victory.

The back-to-back wins along with championships in 1999 and 2001 gave coach Vicki Kowalski four wins in a 44-year career.

Looking ahead into spring, Mercy’s softball team has only a 2016 state title to its credit. However, the Marlins will have one of the best windmillers in the state on the mound in junior Kaitlyn Pallozzi.

Last season, she went 16-1 with four saves and in 96 innings had a 0.00 ERA with 245 strikeouts. She gave up just 12 singles with no doubles, triples or home runs allowed. At the plate, Kaitlyn hit .451 with five home runs and 34 RBIs.

As a freshman and in only her second high school game, she hurled a perfect-perfect: 27 up and 27 down, all on strikeouts!

She is committed to Alabama.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].


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