Marian tops Mercy in razor-thin regional championship match; Notre Dame Prep, Regina, Fr. Gabriel Richard, Shrine, SMCC also win

TROY — It’s not hard to recognize volleyball fans at Bloomfield Hills Marian and Farmington Hills Mercy; they’re the ones whose fingernails are chewed to the stubs.

The two schools’ teams gave fans another reason to gnaw down Thursday night, as Marian prevailed over Mercy in a real nail-biter: 25-22, 19-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11.

Mercy, rated as the No. 1 team in Michigan, was also the defending state champion in Division 1 play. But second-ranked Marian, who beat Mercy for the first time in three years to win the Catholic League championship last month, made it two victories in a row over the Marlins during the regional championship played at Troy Athens.

“It was the most premier match tonight; it was amazing,” Marian junior outside hitter Ava Brizard said. “We’d been practicing so hard, and we’ve played them so many times, we really knew what to do. We watched a lot of film. We really believed in ourselves. Our blocking, our passing, our hitting, we just made our shots and we made them at the right time, and that’s how we came out with the win.”

Brizard had 24 kills, many of them set up by sophomore Ava Sarafa, who had 50 assists.

Marian sophomore Evelynne Oegema prepares to put the ball in play.

“We’ve got some amazing talent here, and they just know how to bring it,” Sarafa said. “We had to be mentally strong, and we basically had to be errorless.”

Mercy, whose roster includes Miss Volleyball award finalists Julia Bishop and Charli Atiemo, only lost two matches this fall — both to Marian.

“We faced them here in the regional, and it’s a nice thing for the Catholic League, but yes, the rivalry continues,” Mercy coach Loretta Vogel said. “We did really well considering we pushed them to five games. I thought it was a fabulous match. Yes, we lost, but we were at least involved in something like that, and I wish them well. I think they really did a nice job. It comes down to rivalries, but I commend them.”

Next, the Mustangs play Macomb Dakota in the state quarterfinal match, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron. At stake is a trip to the final four tournament at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Center, Nov. 19-21.

“I’m just so proud of every single one of the girls. I just want to thank them and the coaches for being so supportive,” Brizard said. “You’ll see us in Battle Creek. We’re going to be there, and we’re going to win.”

Marian players celebrate at mid-court following the final point of the match.

Marian, who has been to the state championship game eight times and won twice (2009 and 2010) is the last Catholic League representative left alive in Division 1. Dearborn Divine Child played in the regional final, but lost to Novi in straight sets, 25-13, 25-13, 25-7.

Division 2

It’s likely Pontiac Notre Dame Prep followers didn’t have their fingernails left, either, as the Fighting Irish survived an all-out battle with perennial power North Branch. Playing on the opponents’ home court, Notre Dame Prep had to eke out a 16-14 win in the fifth and deciding set.

The Fighting Irish (36-9) had to come back in each of their first two victories. Betty Wroubel’s squad erased a 23-19 deficit in the second set to win 25-23, and trailed 14-12 in the third before winning 25-17.

It was the fourth consecutive regional championship for Notre Dame Prep, who started the streak by winning the Class B state title in 2017.

Notre Dame Prep will face Warren Regina in a 6 p.m. quarterfinal on Tuesday at St. Clair County Community College. 

Regina has now won regionals for two years in a row after going 29 years without a title. Playing on their home floor, the Saddlelites weren’t pushed as much as the Fighting Irish — Regina defeated Ferndale, 25-13, 25-9, 25-13.

Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard also won their regional crown in three straight sets, but were pushed to the limit in each by Carleton Airport. The Fighting Irish had a slim margin of victory in each game, 26-24, 25-21, 26-24.

Fr. Gabriel Richard — which beat North Branch to win the 2015 Class B state championship — advances to the quarterfinals to take on Lake Odessa Lakewood, which was a state finalist last year. That match is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Tecumseh High School. 

Division 3

Top-ranked Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central continues to press on toward defending its 2019 state championship. The Kestrels (36-2) maintained a consistent lead throughout Thursday’s regional final against Manchester, and went on to win in straight sets, 25-13, 25-17, 25-12. 

Next, Karen O’Brien’s squad takes on Bronson, the team that won the prior four state championships from 2015-18. That quarterfinal match will be 7 p.m. Tuesday at Whitmore Lake.

Finally, Royal Oak Shrine reaches its first quarterfinal match since the fall of 2007 after defeating host Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest, 25-22, 25-17, 17-25, 25-15. Coach Annette DeMartino’s squad fell to Northwest in the first match in the year, but turned the tables on Northwest’s home court.

Shrine plays Saginaw Valley Lutheran in Tuesday’s quarterfinal match, 6 p.m. at Burton Bendle.