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Mercy’s Jess Mruzik named 18th winner, 2019 recipient of MIVCA’s Miss Volleyball Award

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 18, 2019, 3:08 pm

FARMINGTON HILLS — Well, that was new.

When they helped pull off a surprise announcement at the end of Monday afternoon’s signing ceremony, the Farmington Hills Mercy Marlins saw something from their star outside hitter that they’d never seen before.

Tears.

Granted, they were mixed with laughter, as senior Jess Mruzik watched the Miss Volleyball trophy brought out from the other end of the gymnasium, but they were tears nonetheless.

Mruzik became the 18th winner and 2019 recipient of the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association’s Miss Volleyball award, winning the coaches’ voting in a landslide.

And the surprise moved her to tears. 

“Obviously, we worked really hard — diligently, actually — with everyone to keep this a secret, just to see the reaction we had from Jess,” Mercy coach Loretta Vogel said. “I think of the years we’ve known Jess, had her with us, I’ve never seen her cry. Or even get emotional. So I think even for the team, and myself, we knew the importance of something like this for her.”

Even thought she’d dreamt about the award for years, and had asked assistant coach Andrew Thompson about it recently, it still didn’t dawn on her what athletic director Nancy Malinowski was saying about “one last presentation” at the end of the signing day, until she saw the trophy.

“Well I took a glance at it, then I looked back at Malinowski, our athletic director. Then I did a double-take. I was not expecting it at all. It was crazy. … I started crying, right away. Both my mom and my dad were right by my side, and I heard them both start crying. When my dad breaks down, that’s when I break down. But I was laughing about it, too, because all of my teammates said they knew about it today, but I had no clue,” Mruzik said. “Honestly, I had no idea that or when it was going to happen. I was talking to Andrew a couple of weeks ago. I was like ‘Hey, do you know when it comes out, or anything?’ He said ‘Yeah, maybe …’ but he didn’t really give me any details.”

Maddy Doyle was the last Mercy player to take home Miss Volleyball, back in 2011.

But as far back as four years ago, when Mruzik was a freshman, you could’ve laid pretty good odds that there was a good chance of Monday’s ceremony eventually happening. 

“I had a pretty good idea. The first time I met Jess, she was in the seventh grade, and she came to one of our camps here. And … she was impressive then. So we were hoping that Mercy would be a choice,” Vogel said. “But I think, yes, from the time she was a freshman — you could tell when we’d play, we’d go to tournaments, other coaches, other players would say ‘How old is she?’ At the time, when she was a freshman, she was 13, turning 14 — she was a very young freshman.”

That was when she started thinking it was a possibility, too.

“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,” Mruzik said. “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. 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.”
As good as she was back then, she’s been driven to improve.

As a junior, Mruzik had 420 kills, 165 digs, 65 aces and 50 assists, hitting .417 for a Marlins team that lost in the semifinals. She put up those totals despite missing 12 matches to compete in the NORCECA Continental Championships in Honduras, earning MVP honors after leading the 2018 USA Volleyball Youth National Team to the tournament championship. 

This year, she missed time in leading the Youth National Team to gold — the first ever for a U.S. team in an age-group world championship — at the FIVB Girls U18 World Championships in Egypt in September, when she also earned MVP honors.

Through regionals this season, she has 415 kills (hitting .534), 172 digs, 42 aces and 29 assists. 

Earlier this month, she earned AVCA Under Armour first-team All-America status, and is the reigning Gatorade volleyball player of the year for Michigan, as well. 

“She’s very dedicated, dedicated to wanting to learn more. I think that’s been a quality of Jess, whether she’s here, or with her club coaches, or with the national team,” Vogel said. “She listens to everyone. As I always say to anyone who comes, whether it’s a camp or club, ‘Be a library of information,’ and I think that truly is what Jess is about, in allowing everyone to give her information on the game.”

With all those MVP and player of the year honors, she’s starting to accumulate quite a collection of hardware. 

Where does it all go?

“I’m not sure yet. Maybe up in my room, maybe downstairs. We’ll find a good place for it,” she said with a grin, both arms wrapped around the plaque that she’ll get to keep. “I have a little shelf in my room, but I just put it wherever it feels right. We had my Gatorade (Player of the Year) banner hanging in the living room for a couple of weeks, and I was like ‘Mom — can we move that away?’”

Mruzik won in a landslide, with 305 points, while Schoolcraft’s Andelyn Simpkins was second with 165 points. Brighton’s Celia Cullen (134), Mruzik’s future Michigan teammate Kendall Murray of Ann Arbor Skyline (116), and Grand Rapids Christian’s Jordyn Gates (109) rounded out the top five. The other Miss Volleyball candidates included: Corunna’s Elizabeth Norris (92), Bronson’s Keona Salesman (85), Mattawan’s Alli Wiese (82), Bloomfield Hills’ Alexa Rousseau (75) and Grand Haven’s Ashley Slater (49).

“I’m just blessed and honored that all the coaches around the state think so highly of me, and all my colleagues that were up for this award are amazing volleyball players, and amazing people, as well,” Mruzik said. “Kudos to them. They’re amazing, and I love them.”

Before she’s done, though, and heads off to Michigan, there’s one more piece of hardware she’d like to capture with her teammates: The big mitten given to a state champion.

The No. 1-ranked Marlins are set to play in the Division 1 quarterfinals on Tuesday evening in Port Huron, were they’ll take on Macomb L’Anse Creuse North at St. Clair County Community College Fieldhouse.

“We got together at the beginning of the season, and talked about that was our end goal for this season. We’ve all focused on that, but we’re trying to take it one match at a time, focus on our side of the court, and leave everything out on the floor, all the time,” Mruzik said. “If things work out in our favor, great, but we don’t want to walk off knowing that we could’ve done something differently.”

Previous winners

2018 — Madeline Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep

2017 — Erin O’Leary, Novi

2016 — Meredith Norris, Corunna

2015 — Gia Milana, Romeo

2014 — Katherine Carlson, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep

2013 — Carli Snyder, Macomb Dakota

2012 — Amanda McKinzie, Battle Creek St. Philip

2011 — Maddy Doyle, Farmington Hills Mercy

2010 — Jordan Fish, North Branch

2009 — Alexandra Cocklin, Birmingham Marian

2008 — Olivia Kohler, North Branch

2007 — Kyndra Abron, Livonia Churchill (fall season)

2007 — Lauren Jones, East Kentwood (winter season)

2006 — Alisha Glass, Leland

2005 — Stephanie Booms, Marysville

2004 — Angie McGinnis, Fraser

2003 — Linsey Taatjes, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern