Holly Hilvert's work ethic represents the Mercy volleyball team in its final season

CINCINNATI -- Holly Hilvert has experienced a range of emotions being on the final volleyball team at Mother of Mercy High School.

But one aspect is abundantly clear: The Bobcats are having fun giving the ultimate effort entering the postseason this weekend.

Mercy hosted its final home match Thursday night and defeated McNicholas.

“It’s definitely been more special,” said Hilvert, a middle blocker and two-time captain. “I feel like it has been a bigger meaning for us. It’s been a lot about legacy and what kind of legacy we want to leave.”

The Sisters of Mercy announced in March the closing of Mercy High School in Westwood and McAuley High School in College Hill after the 2017-18 school year.

The two schools will merge to form Mercy McAuley High School on the current McAuley campus on Oakwood Avenue starting in the fall 2018.

For the current seniors, coaching staffs and athletic administrations, this school year adds extra significance in every sport.

That is especially true for Mercy volleyball, which is a storied program in Greater Cincinnati and statewide.

The Bobcats have won four state volleyball titles (2007, 1982, 1980 and 1977) and have been state runner-up four times (2006, 2004, 1991 and 1979).

Players and coaches understand the emotions surrounding the closing of the school. But they don’t have to discuss that fact at length. The focus is on the court.

“I think the best way to honor the legacy is by practicing hard and working hard and getting after it,” said Mercy volleyball coach Denise (Ortman) Harvey, a 1991 graduate who's also the school’s athletic director.

Hilvert’s competitive fire represents exactly the identity Mercy wants this season.

“(Holly) is our hardest worker,” Harvey said. “And I challenged everybody to work harder than Holly knowing no one could and in the end that everyone would work as hard as they possibly could.”

Mercy (19-3), ranked No. 3 in the Division I state coaches’ poll, plays either Hamilton or Withrow in a sectional semifinal at 4 p.m. Oct. 21 at Sycamore.

Mercy has already enjoyed a memorable journey. The Bobcats upset No. 1-national ranked Ursuline Sept. 28 just four days after Harvey won her 300th career match.

“It’s been really fun,” said Hilvert, who is the niece of former La Salle football coach Jim Hilvert. “We are all friends. There is no drama ever.”

The Mercy volleyball program has been a significant part of the 17-year-old’s life. She remembers attending memorable Mercy versus Seton matches as a grade school student at Our Lady of Visitation.

Mercy senior middle blocker Holly Hilvert is a two-time captain. (Photo by Katy Samuels)

Hilvert’s mother, Jeannie (Kirch) played all four years and graduated in 1992. The three-sport standout and 2002 Mother of Mercy Hall of Fame inductee was on the 1991 state runner-up team with Harvey (Ortman).

Holly’s aunt, Chrissy (Kirch) Timmerman played volleyball for Mercy and is a 1997 graduate.

Jeannie admits she’s shed a lot of tears this season but knows the team is making every former Mercy player proud with its effort. She was in attendance for the emotional Senior Night Oct. 9.

"I thought it was classy," Jeannie said. "I was crying the moment I got there until it was over."

Two days after Senior Night, Holly took a few moments to reflect upon what the school and volleyball program has meant to her.

"I just hope we can leave the best legacy," Holly said. "We’re going to be the last Mercy volleyball team to be playing on this court ever. That means something to all of us."

Holly also feels responsible in being a role model to younger students in the school. She earns good grades and is a part of student council.

"She is kind of our heart and hustle," Harvey said. "She has a wonderful personality. The kids just gravitate toward her. They follow her lead.”

Holly has urged her classmates to keep an open mind this final school year.

"We are going to show what Mercy volleyball is all about -- this year," Holly said. "I want to make sure the juniors know -- they should carry this on now to the new school. They should carry on their leadership and everything they’ve learned here and share it with others."

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