Birmingham Marian is ready.
The Mustangs tuned up for the Class A volleyball state tournament by reclaiming the Catholic League championship Monday against defending Class B state champion Pontiac Notre Dame Prep. The Mustangs won in three sets and have now turned their focus to district tournament action, which begins this week.
Marian will host a five-team district that also includes Bloomfield Hills, Farmington Harrison, North Farmington and Birmingham Seaholm. Although the Mustangs need to take care of business in their opening games, all signs point to a Marian-Seaholm showdown Friday for the district crown.
Two years ago, Seaholm captured the district title with an emotional five-set victory over Marian. Last year, the Mustangs beat the Maples in three sets to win the district, then went on to take the regional before falling in the state championship match to East Grand Rapids.
If Marian hopes to land another spot in the state title game, it faces a very challenging road – and the first road block figures to be Seaholm. The teams are very familiar with each other as they’ve met in a number of tournaments this year.
Marian owns a 45-8-1 overall record and enters the state tournament ranked No. 5 in the state. Seaholm is ranked No. 9.
“We’re very excited about the state tournament,” senior Meghan Cotant said. “We had a great run last year and every team we faced was good and it’s going to be the same way this year.
“We don’t look at any one team in particular. We know that everyone is going to have their strengths. But, yeah, we know Seaholm is going to be a tough team and they’re going to play hard against us. But I think if we play our game, I think it should be our game.
“I think this is a team that can do what we did last year and getting back to Battle Creek has been a main goal of ours,” she added. “That’s what we work for every day in practice. Our underclassmen who have come up are into it and they know what’s expected of them and it’s going to be fun.”
Marian second-year head coach Angela Kalczynski knows the Mustangs must be ready for all postseason challenges.
“Winning the Catholic League was one of our goals this season,” Kalczynski said. “This was a great first step for us as we move into the state tournament.
“Our goal is to get 1 percent better every day,” she said. “Our passing and defense is great, we just have to work on our offense – attacking and serving.”
The Mustangs are led by returning senior starters Alannah Barash (outside hitter), Katarina Mazanka (middle hitter) and Cotant (setter/outside hitter), plus junior Delaney Backonen (libero/defensive specialist).
Sophomores Kate Schafran (defensive specialist/outside hitter) and Abby Wikol (outside hitter) and freshmen Lauren Wenzel (middle hitter) and Maggie DePorre (outside hitter/setter) also see a lot of playing time.
Statistically, Barash leads in kills (419) and Backonen leads in digs (577). Sophomore newcomer Mackinze Likly is second in digs with 354.
Cotant paces the offense with a team-high 1,093 assists, including 45 in the Catholic League final against Notre Dame Prep. Cotant is a four-year varsity player who provides Marian with leadership, versatility and clutch play.
“I’m very proud of Meghan. She’s gone from an outside hitter to setting and she makes plays that only a four-year varsity player can make,” Kalczynski said. “She wasn’t up for Miss Volleyball, but I think she is very deserving of that nomination.
“And as a team, I think we kind of feed off of that in a way,” she added. “The team wants to make a statement that (Meghan) is very deserving of that award. In tough situations, she is always the one who is stepping up, performing in the clutch and making the big play. She is the heart of our team.”
In her four years of varsity, Cotant’s first trip to the finals was last year. She would love to end her career by leading Marian to its third state championship in program history.
“Marian won states the year before I got here and then last year was the first time we made it back to the finals since then,” Cotant said. “We’ve been there, so we have good experience to make another run. It would be awesome to bring home the gold this time. Winning the Catholic League was a big confidence-booster for us.”