A resounding ‘thud’ sets off Mercy’s celebration of a state volleyball title

Mercy High School's 2019 state championship volleyball team, led by senior and state “Miss Volleyball” winner Jessica Mruzik, center, celebrates with the state title trophy after a dramatic five-set victory over Lowell. (Courtesy photo)

BATTLE CREEK — What is defined as a “kill” in volleyball would classify chess in the violent sport category: “An attack by a player that is not returnable by the receiving player on the opposing team and leads directly to a point or loss of rally.”

When 6-foot-2 Jessica Mruzik winds up for a kill — and she’s had more than 500 this season and triple that for her prep career — that definition doesn’t cut it.

It should say something like “… and leaves a scar on the receiving player or a burn mark scorched on the playing surface or maybe evacuate the first two rows of spectators.”

This writer has seen one of Mruzik's kills knock the receiving player off her feet.

Last Saturday, at the MHSAA Division 1 state volleyball finals in Kellogg Arena, Mruzik delivered a kill that was heard around the Michigan high school sports world. It wasn’t the bazooka type either. More like a bloop that perfectly fit the definition of being non-returnable and leading directly to a point.

When it hit the floor, it made a “thud” sound.

There was just a second of silence until realization set in about the significance of the most important and most memorable kill Jessica had ever delivered. A celebration erupted. Fans were delirious. Mercy players flopped on the floor. 

Why, even coach Loretta Vogel piled on.

The Mercy Marlins were Michigan’s high school Division 1 state volleyball champions. At last!

“That’s how you want to end your high school career,” said Mruzik, the 2019 Miss Volleyball, “with a state championship.” For her personally, this is the cherry on her victory cake along with national and world championships.

The final was all that a fight for supremacy should be: a match between the two best teams — the No. 1 Marlins (58-1) against No. 2 Lowell (55-4).

Mercy methodically took the first two sets, 25-21 and 25-12.

The Red Hawks, displaying firepower of their own, led the third set most of the way, winning three of the last four points to win 25-23 and stay alive.

The lead in the fourth set changed hands several times with the Marlins seeking to close the deal and Lowell wanting to force a fifth and deciding set. The score was tied at 21, 22 and 23.

Lowell knotted it again at 24-24 when Mruzik’s shot was blocked.

“I knew as soon as I got blocked I thought, ‘Man, I probably shouldn’t have done that,’” Mruzik related to media. “I knew what I was going to do right after that. I knew that I made a mistake there, and I just wanted to win that point and win it for my team.”

Win it, she did. Her trademark kill put Mercy back on top 25-24 setting the stage for a dramatic championship match point — a delicately-placed ball over the Lowell defender’s head for a 26-24 victory.

At the post-match press conference, Vogel, in her 11th year at Mercy, brought along the entire team.

“They’re a very close-knit group, and I respected that,” she explained. “They’re together every day, and they’re very close. In the end, they like each other, also.”

Mruzik had 34 kills and 15 digs. Junior Ellen Tisko had 14 timely kills. Sophomore libera Amina Robinson had 22 digs, and junior Madi Malecki 15.

Senior Julia Bishop (committed to Michigan State) had 54 assists.

Mruzik will graduate from Mercy in December, and in January enroll at Michigan to begin a new volleyball chapter.