Seeing her for the first time, you could tell Jess Mruzik had game.
She was an eighth-grader playing up an age group for Team D 15 Red in 2016 – a squad that qualified for 15 Open that year and finished 27th overall at the USAV Girls Junior National Championships in Indianapolis. She jumped well. She hit and set and she was a competitor. Still, given the immense volleyball talent in this nation, her skill set did not scream that by the time her senior campaign ended she would win every award available.
Mruzik was a junior when she dominated the 2019 club season as a 6-foot-1 six-rotation outside for Legacy 18-Elite (now Legacy 18-Adidas). She showed her physicality, her athleticism, her maturity, her competitiveness.
It all shined.
She was no longer a developing eighth-grader who was also focused on basketball. Rather more times than not she was the best player on courts filled with future Division 1 talent. Though Legacy lost its only tournament of the year at USA Volleyball Junior Nationals in Dallas, Mruzik and company rebounded to claim 18 Open gold at AAUs in Orlando weeks later and finished the season considered to be the best 18s team in the land.
About the only thing left to accomplish for Mruzik before heading off to college was winning a state title for Mercy High School, the program from Farmington Hill, Michigan, that was the overwhelming favorite for the Division 1 championship. Before that commenced, Mruzik tried out and made the 12-member USA Youth National Team roster set to compete for the FIVB U19 World Championships in Egypt. She played in Mercy’s first six contests before departing with the Youth National Team in late August.
She returned in September not only as a gold medalist for USA, but as the MVP of the tournament. The only downer? Mercy (58-1) lost its only match while she was away. It came against Lowell, an opponent Mercy would beat later on and then once more for the state championship, the first for Mercy’s program.
The list was complete.
Club national champion? Check.
VolleyballMag.com national club player of the year? Check.
USA gold medal? Check.
USA MVP? Check.
High school state champion? Check.
Under Armour All American MVP? Check
Michigan Miss Volleyball (again)? Check.
Gatorade state player of the year (again)? Check.
Long before any of the honors started racking up Mruzik committed to the University of Michigan. She’s already left her home in Livonia and has moved in and is currently enrolled in Ann Arbor, so she won’t be playing club this winter and spring. At least you’ll see a new name for the 2020 VBM club player of the year.
“I’m super excited,” Mruzik said of college. “I’ve waited a lifetime to play here. I’m super excited to get after it with the coaches and my teammates and see where the next step takes me.”
If you haven’t figured it out by now, here it is officially:
Mruzik is VolleyballMag.com’s 2019 national High School Player of the Year after guiding Mercy to a state championship. Even playing in just over half her team’s sets there was no denying Mruzik the award. She averaged 4.3 kills per set and hit an overwhelming .578. Her team captured a state title and ended No. 3 in VolleyballMag.com’s final national high school ranking. Given that Mercy lost to Lowell without Mruzik and then defeated Lowell twice with her is evidence of Mruzik’s value. It makes it hard to say Mercy wins state without her.
“That’s how you want it to happen,” Mruzik said. “You want to beat the team that beat you in the state championship when it matters. We wanted to make a statement showing we were the better team.”
Mruzik is writing her script as she goes along. That one of the latest chapters included a state championship surprised no one. Neither has the way Mruzik has handled it all.
“She’s a very fortunate young lady,” Mercy coach Loretta Vogel said. “Everything that has happened to her this season and the last six months, she’s been very humble. You couldn’t ask for a nicer young lady. We will miss her at Mercy.”
As much as Mruzik was looking forward to competing with USA, she was equally fretting having to leave her team behind. Vogel said Mruzik is an even better teammate than she is player.
“She’s a wonderful part of the team and a wonderful part of the program,” she said. “She’s very social. She’s not one who would say anything demeaning to another athlete or player. She’s not made like that. It’s just the way she is. She’s very personable with her teammates.”
While in Egypt, Mruzik caught what she could of Mercy through her spotty Wi-fi connection at the hotel and any text updates she could receive during the matches. Seeing the loss was tough to swallow, but she knew it wasn’t the end.
“It was hard because I know the girls wanted to win all the matches while I was gone,” Mruzik said. “I think we really learned from the loss and we were able to develop off those weaknesses.”
Developing and improving is second-nature for Mruzik. Her Legacy coach Ricky Cottrill said Mruzik was in the gym working on her game before leaving for Michigan. It’s part of the reason Michigan coach Mark Rosen is looking forward to having her on campus already. It’s rare for a player to enroll early at Michigan but Rosen said it was Mruzik’s plan since the recruiting process started and she worked hard to make sure all the requirements were met.
“I’m biased, I’m a big fan but she’s really talented and works really hard to be the best she can be,” he said. “It’s the reason she’s getting these awards. On top of that, it’s a huge priority for her to be a great teammate and be coachable. It’s what makes her special.”
Mruzik was a ball shagger at Michigan matches when Rosen first heard about her. A club coach told Rosen to check her out and when Rosen did he couldn’t believe he recognized Mruzik as one of the ball girls.
“We didn’t know she played,” he said. “She was legit then.”
Rosen and Vogel are among the coaches who have had a front-row seat in the process. Vogel said she was always amazed how much better Mruzik was every year she showed up to begin high school.
“She would come back to our program every fall and she was stronger, she was smarter, she was more educated and her club coaches would probably say the same thing when she got done with high school,” Vogel said. “She’s constantly improving physically and she continues to improve mentally. That’s the compliment I can give Jess.”
There’s no way for Mruzik to describe the ride. How could she? We just know her prep career is over and all that came with it. We can only imagine what might be ahead at the next level.
“At the beginning of 2019 I never would have expected all this would have happened,” Mruzik said. “It just kept coming one award after another. Looking back it’s so amazing. It’s been so surreal. I had amazing teammates and to accomplish everything with them it’s unreal. I can’t put it into words.”