Bloomfield Hills Marian junior outside hitter Izzy Busignani makes a play on the ball during a practice Oct. 19 at Marian High School.

Bloomfield Hills Marian junior outside hitter Izzy Busignani makes a play on the ball during a practice Oct. 19 at Marian High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Young Mustangs continue championship mindset for Marian volleyball

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 23, 2023

Featured Gallery (Click to view)


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — There are new names and faces, but the same championship mentality for Bloomfield Hills Marian volleyball in 2023.

Earning three consecutive Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Championships, Marian’s success has been a product of not only its culture, but the talented senior classes the program has seen depart over the past few years, which included 2022 Michigan Volleyball Player of the Year Ava Sarafa, a Miss Volleyball candidate in Ella Schomer, and two third-team all-State honorees in Lauren Heming and Reagan Sass.

But like any dynasty, there’s a year where the veterans move on and it’s up to the young guns to step up when the team is most vulnerable, and the young Mustangs are staking their claim this season towards another state title.

“We’re right there with everyone, and I believe with how young our team is and having that complete roster turnover,” Marian coach Mayssa Cook said. “These kids haven’t played together; they’re playing together against some of the best in the state, and there’s that pressure of defending three state titles that I think, at moments, they felt that pressure of, ‘Are we living up to the Marian reputation and the Marian legacy?’ I just have to remind them that it’s a new team and that there’s nothing to prove other than being the best team they can be.”

Led by returning first team all-State and junior outside hitter, Izzy Busignani, Marian’s young starting core of freshmen Calli LeFevre (outside hitter) and Sophia Smith (opposite hitter), and sophomores Allie Davison (setter) and Jayla Zayti (middle blocker) have silenced any talks of Marian being underdogs this season.

Currently 39-7 this year and Catholic High School League Bishop champions for the fourth consecutive season, it’s safe to say the pressure of being three-time defending state champions has worn off.

“I think there was a little bit of pressure coming into the season, and I was a little nervous, but so far that pressure and people wanting to beat you has pushed me as a player and made me stronger,” LeFevre said.

Marian doubled down on its league title with one of its most impressive performances this season two days later, as the Mustangs went 7-0 at the Beast of the East Tournament against a field of 32 teams, 14 of which were ranked or honorable mentions, according to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association.

En route to its tournament win Oct. 14 at Michigan Elite in Pontiac, Marian knocked off Frankenmuth (No. 8 D2), Farmington Hills Mercy (HM D1), Jenison (No. 7 D1), and North Branch (No. 1 D2).

Busignani was lethal at the Beast of the East tournament, recording 13 kills in the championship match against Jenison, while Davison added 24 assists in the win.

As the lone returning starter from last year’s squad, Busignani understood she needed to step up in the leadership category, so Busignani reached out to some of the best leaders she knew — her former senior mentors.

“I got to not only watch them and see what they do and how they do it, but I got to talk to them during this season,” Busignani said. “Last year with Ava Brizard, she was one of the biggest mentors for me that I could always look to and talk to. I still have them in my corner, and they’re just helping with what I should do next, or when I had a question about how much leadership or what are things I could tell the team to help motivate them and things like that. I’ve called Ava Brizard and asked Ella Schomer things and Ava Sarafa. They’re still helping even when they’re gone. If I have a question, they’re always there to answer it.”

Alongside Busignani, senior team captain Dani Mertz has progressed both on the court and in her leadership role for Marian this season.

While Busignani and Mertz’s role this season for Marian on the court has been effective, they, along with senior team captain Maggie Scott, have been vital in helping Marian’s underclassmen transition to varsity volleyball. Junior libero Maria Odeesh has also been a consistent contributor both on the court and as a leader.

“I’ve been really blessed and grateful for the experience I’ve had so far, and all the welcoming upperclassmen have made it a pretty easy transition,” LeFevre said. “I think it’s really like a sisterhood. I feel like they accept everyone and treat everyone with such kindness that it’s easy to feel welcomed.”

So, what is the Marian way and how does Marian continue to transition their players so effectively?

It starts with the culture, and a Marian culture that’s predicated on family, academics, respect and perseverance has built a formula that allows its students and athletes to thrive, especially with a coach like Cook.

“In all honesty, I think it’s a discipline thing,” Busignani said. “Mayssa knows how good we can be and the things that we’re capable of, so she’s constantly holding you to a high standard in practice and as a person. Our program in general keeps a focus on not only being a good player but keeping a focus in school and being a good person outside of those things. You always represent Marian and Marian volleyball.”

Cook prioritizes the mental aspect of the game, promoting team yoga and NeuroFuel, an application that offers daily mental strength exercises and routines.

“She’s interested in both our mental side and physical side,” Mertz said. “She wants us giving good reps and getting good that way, but she also takes the time to care about our mental side.”

Both physically and mentally ready for districts, Marian will start its road to defending its championship territory when the Mustangs face Birmingham Seaholm Oct. 30 at Marian High School.

While young and still finding their footing as a team, Davison said, the team all has one goal in mind heading into the state tournament.

”I think the whole team knows we have a job to do, and we have been working super hard in practice to keep up the Marian legacy,” Davison said.