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BREAKING: Mercy’s Jess Mruzik, Michigan’s Miss Volleyball, named the 2020 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, January 22, 2020, 4:00 pm

FARMINGTON HILLS — It might be a while until Jess Mruzik trusts any requests she gets from her former athletic director at Farmington Hills Mercy, Nancy Malinowski, and her parents, Jeff and Jackie.

That trio has managed to hoodwink her twice with major bombshells in the last few months, keeping it secret from the now-graduated Mercy volleyball star that she’d won a pair of highly coveted awards.

After keeping it under wraps that she’d won Michigan’s Miss Volleyball award until shocking her at the school’s signing day ceremony, they pulled it off again on Wednesday, when they got her to come back to school so that could spring it on her that she’d been named Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year. 

“Well, I definitely didn’t think my family could keep surprises as well as they have proven to. But it’s unreal. All the awards that I’ve gotten over the years, and even just this past year, they’re so special, and they mean so much to me,” Mruzik admitted, with a grin semi-permanently plastered on her face. “My parents and teammates had been planning this for a while, I guess. I had no idea it was even going to happen. They said I was just coming in for an interview with my teammates. We were going to talk about how we’d won the state championship this year, and what it means for our program and everything.”

The wrinkle in the operation was that Mruzik was no longer on campus, having already graduated so she could enroll early at the University of Michigan. Jeff Mruzik had to drive to Ann Arbor to bring her back for the ceremony. 

“My dad was kind of being weird on the way over here. They were making us sign in at the front door, and my dad was like ‘No, you don’t need to do that,’ because everybody’s names that were here were on there. So he was trying to get me to go away from that, and he pushed me in here,” said Mruzik, who teared up as soon as she opened the door to the school’s drama room, and saw her teammates arrayed on the stage, waiting for her. “That’s so special for me. I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve been with a lot of them for so many years of my life, and throughout my volleyball career. It was great to have them here, and I wouldn’t have won it without them. …

“I mean, I love them. I love everybody here. I know they’re just trying to keep it fun for me, and everything. But I know if I definitely need to tell somebody a secret, I know who I need to go to now.”

It’s no secret, though, that Mruzik has become one of the state’s most decorated volleyball players ever, winning award after award the last two seasons, culminating with the big two in recent months.

Mruzik never worried about the individual goals, knowing that if she did her job, and helped lead Farmington Hills Mercy to its first-ever state title in volleyball, those things would take care of themselves.

“Oh, geez. So many people have asked me about the last year I’ve been through, and all the awards I’ve won and everything, and looking back on it, I’m just blessed and honored to be part of such an amazing volleyball community, and just really respected among my coaches and peers. This is just unreal. I did not expect this at all, and it’s so amazing to be considered for this award, and … Wow. I’m just speechless right now,” she said. 

“I don’t really aim for all these accolades that I’ve won. It’s definitely super amazing to have won all these awards this year, and over my volleyball career. But this isn’t why I play the game. I play the game because I love the sport and I love my teammates, and the competitive atmosphere that comes along with playing volleyball. This is amazing right now.”

Yet, the awards came. 

MVP honors at the NORCECA under-18 Continential Championship at the start of her junior year, followed by Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year honors at the end of it.

MVP honors in leading the U.S. Girls Youth National team to a first-ever age-group gold at the FIVB Girls U-18 World Championship at the beginning of her senior season, and Under Armour All-America honors after leading Mercy to its first title, as well as player of the year honors from PrepVolleyball.com and VolleyballMag.com.

Followed by a repeat as Michigan’s Gatorade POY, and then the Miss Volleyball award she’d grown up thinking about.

“Ever since I was a freshman, I knew all of the Miss Volleyball winners, up until that point — and I knew they were amazing volleyball players. I just wanted to be like them. It’s really something that I don’t think about every single day — I just try to get one percent better every single day, and make my teammates better,” the senior said at the presentation of Miss Volleyball. “And if the awards come along with it, that’s great, but that’s not really what I’m aiming for, but it’s obviously super exciting to have this award right now.”

And now the Gatorade National Player of the Year honor, which comes with a massive, crystal-topped trophy. At the end of the ceremony, Malinowski and coach Loretta Vogel presented her with her Mercy No. 33 jersey, framed, having retired the number. 

Before the deluge began, Mruzik only had one little shelf in her bedroom at home dedicated to the memorabilia from her sporting exploits. 

That shelf isn’t big enough anymore. 

“I don’t think so. We’re going to have to figure something else out now,” she laughed. “This is definitely a way to go out with a bang. I came into this program wanting to build it up — Mercy volleyball already had such a great reputation with the program, the history, the school and everything — but I just wanted to take it to the next level. I think that’s what my teammates and I did this year.”

It’s hard for her to encapsulate everything that has happened in the last two seasons.

“It’s honestly hard to sum it up. So many things have happened over my four years in high school, and even just this volleyball season — one word that definitely comes to mind is grit,” she said. “My teammates and I have had a lot of grit over the years, and we’ve grinded through a lot of adversity, and kept going.”