In a year where a number of blue-chip high school juniors excelled in the 18 Open division on the girls’ club scene, one’s star burned even brighter.
Jess Mruzik, out of the Michigan-based Legacy Volleyball Club, helped her team win the national title at AAUs in Orlando, Florida, one of eight tournament titles for the squad, which finished the season 72-4 overall. For her efforts, Mruzik is the 2019 VolleyballMag.com girls club player of the year. Our full list of Girls Club All-Americans for 2019 can be found here.
“I thought I improved a lot on my overall game,” said Mruzik, a University of Michigan commit. “I went into the season and picked out what I needed to work on and talked with my coaches, and we set up a game plan on what I needed to work on. My coaches, my teammates, and I did a good job improving on those things.”
One area in particular Mruzik zeroed in on was her serve-receive game. “I don’t think I would have been as successful this season if I didn’t step up that serve-receive aspect,” she said. “I knew I was playing up at 18s and everything is more challenging as a whole. People are serving a lot harder at you, and as an outside hitter you are going to be targeted. Being able to pass on top of hitting is important, and it’s something I have to keep getting better at. I didn’t think my serve receive was terrible, but there always is room for improvement in that aspect.”
Mruzik, a 6-1 outside hitter, said playing up on 18s this year was no joke. “It was a challenge,” she said. “The game is a whole new level. Everything is a lot faster. Players serve harder and hit harder. You are playing against girls who are going on to play at the next level. It’s super competitive, but I thought it was super beneficial for me to play up because it was such a challenge. It was the best choice I could have made.”
Legacy VBC co-owner Jen Cottrill said Mruzik produced continued amazement playing up this season. “She was 16 years old and a junior while playing this season against some players almost two years older than her,” Cottrill said. “Her maturity and her ability to mentally control the pressure and lead our team was effortless.”
Cottrill said Mruzik brought the whole package to the table every match.
“Jess did everything well for us,” she said. “That is why she was so valuable to our team. If she wasn’t scoring points, she was contributing to them in some way. She is an efficient six-rotation outside who can score from anywhere on the court, was a primary passer, and an aggressive blocker and defender. Jess is a very explosive athlete. She’s 6-0 1/2 and jump touches 10-5. She is quick off the ground and has a wicked-fast arm swing. Couple all that athleticism with ball control, work ethic, being a gym rat, an elite level competitiveness, and a team-first attitude. It’s not often you get to coach a player that has all that talent and elite skill set and every single intangible.”
While working on the passing aspect of her game, Mruzik did not neglect the hitting component. “Right now the best part of my game is attacking,” she said. “I’ve improved on a range of shots, and I’m working on getting stronger so I can put more power in my game. There still is room for improvement with my attacking.”
Mruzik is left kind of speechless when talking about the Legacy 2019 season. “I can’t even put into words how the season went,” she said. “It exceeded expectations. I don’t think many of us thought we would go on a six-tournament winning streak and then go on to win nationals. That was cool. I’m going to remember how we grew and how hard we played and how we meshed together so well.”
Mruzik, who still has her senior high school season at Mercy in Farmington Hills, Michigan, ahead of her, is part of the U.S. Junior National Team that will head to Colorado at the end of the month to train and then to Egypt in September for competition. Mruzik was the captain of the U.S. Youth National Team last year and earned MVP honors at the NORCECA Continental Championships in Honduras, which the USA won.
“It’s always been a dream for me since I was little to play for the USA,” she said. “I am living out that dream now. It’s crazy. It’s definitely going to be an experience I will never forget, going overseas and getting to play against the best teams.”
Mruzik said her plan is to graduate early from high school in December and get to the University of Michigan’s campus ASAP to begin her studies and training. Mruzik sent in her application to Michigan and is waiting to see if she will be accepted as an early enrollee.
“Everybody in my family is a diehard Michigan fan,” she said. “This has been my dream since I was little. I live 25 minutes from campus, which is super nice. Honestly, it’s unreal that I am going there.”
Mruzik, who said she is greatly looking forward to her final high school season, noted she can’t believe how far she has come from where she was four years ago to today where she is a club national champion and a member of the junior national team. “I look back at so many aspects of my game going into high school and I cannot believe how much I have developed,” she said. “It’s all thanks to my coaches and teammates. It’s crazy how much they have helped me improve.”
Cottrill said the sky’s the limit for Mruzik going forward. “Watching Jess dominate 18 Open this year and the international game last year, her potential is limitless,” she said. “We all envision her taking the Big Ten by storm, being an All-American, and taking her game to the international and Olympic scene after that. She has the physical capabilities, mental strength, competitive edge, and maturity to do whatever she desires.”