Today, we honor the VolleyballMag.com national high school coach of the year. Friday, we will present our girls HS All-American team and player of the year.
For the past few years, the Marian High School girls volleyball team in Bloomfield, Michigan, has put a lot of effort into Halloween.
Two seasons ago, players dressed up as the coaching staff. This past season, there was a zoo-animal theme. And on the court, the Mustangs haunted their opponents. They compiled a 53-1 overall record and won a second straight Michigan Division I state championship.
For coach Mayssa Cook, the 2021 season provided a significant milestone.
“The senior class was the freshman class my first season at Marian. We came into a new school together,” said Cook, the VolleyballMag.com girls high-school coach of the year. “I have known a few of the girls from before I came to Marian through training and club volleyball. It’s a special group.”
Cook, who will head into her fifth season at Marian, is as homegrown volleyball as they come. She played at Dearborn High School in suburban Detroit for Dianne Phillips, who is now on her coaching staff at Marian. She played outside hitter and libero at Schoolcraft University in Livonia, Michigan, and then at Wayne State in Detroit. Before taking over at Marian, she coached four years at Gabriel Richard in Ann Arbor, and led her 2015 team to a state title. She also is in her seventh season as the coach of the Michigan Elite Volleyball Academy 15 Mizuno team.
When looking back at her senior class, Cook mentioned the Marian team that won the 2020 state title without any seniors.
“Those juniors won a title by beating the senior class of the defending state champions (Mercy),” she said. “That’s a pretty big deal. Mercy had won in 2019 and had a very strong senior class that we took out with predominantly sophomores and juniors.”
But winning that 2020 title came with a price.
“Because we had no seniors the year before, there was added pressure because we were expected to do it again,” Cook said. “Every team that played us this season brought their A-game. They had nothing to lose because our team was expected to win again. The girls handled the pressure very well and repeated as state champions.”
Marian won 124 of its 129 sets in 2021. Its only loss was to Michigan Division 2 champion Notre Dame Prep of Pontiac, a match that Marian played without standout middle Sarah Sylvester. Notre Dame took two sets in that win, Rockford got one set off Marian in late August, and Novi and Skyline won a set each in the playoffs. Marian, which hit .370 as a team, downed the Ann Arbor-based Skyline 3-1 to win the crown in Battle Creek.
“Another beautiful thing about this team is it never got complacent and remained humble,” Cook said. “Each girl improved individually, and on the court the chemistry and speed were there. We played at an even higher level of volleyball. A lot of coaches and officials who saw us compete said we were better than some college teams. That’s a great compliment to get.”
In addition to the TCU-bound Sylvester, fellow captains Ava Brizard (North Carolina State) and Brown-bound Sophia Treder (OH-DS, 346 digs, 197 kills) were key, as was the fourth senior on the team, Janiah Jones (MB, 185 kills, .498 hitting). Jones is undecided on her college choice. Brizard (602 kills, 408 digs) won the Michigan Miss Volleyball honor, and Sylvester (95 total blocks, 247 kills, .435 hitting) was a finalist for the award. Brizard was also named the Gatorade state player of the year.
“Mayssa is like a seventh player,” Brizard said. “I’m a pretty competitive person, and Mayssa is one of the only people I have met who matches or exceeds my level of competitiveness. She is not passive. She will never let you make the same mistake over and over again. She will try her best to deliver advice in different ways so that a player can fix what they are doing wrong. She is the most knowledgeable coach in terms of volleyball IQ and the overall game itself.
“Not only is she well-versed in her knowledge of the game, but she is also a good person. She will applaud you at your highest of highs and try to help you out from the lowest of lows. No matter what happens, she’ll stick with you until the very end. I know that first-hand.”
Cook joked that the toughest part of her job this season was getting to the state- championship match at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. Cook’s due date to deliver her third child was Nov. 13. The final was Nov. 20.
“I managed to accomplish that,” she said. “I got to the finals on November 20 and delivered on Thanksgiving, November 25.”
Cook said that most of the credit for the title should go to her players and not the coaching staff, which also features 2009 Miss Volleyball Alex Cocklin (a Marian grad) and Vince Muscat.
“The coaching staff always joked that we were not necessary this season,” Cook said. “We probably had more to do with it the previous year than this season. They were a well-oiled machine. They were so close. They knew what to do, and they were focused from Day 1. They had this goal, and they never got off track and never lost sight of their goals.”
Brizard begs to differ and thinks Cook was instrumental to the championship.
“She was extremely crucial,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure on us this year to repeat as state champions and completely dominate the state. She tried her hardest to ease that pressure and help us embrace it. It could have been so easy to be passive, especially with the personal stress of being pregnant, but every day she came in with the same tenacity and eagerness to coach us to victory. She willed us to succeed and was the fearless leader we needed to push past all the obstacles this season presented.”
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