FARMINGTON HILLS — It was no surprise that Farmington Hills Mercy’s Jess Mruzik signed a national letter of intent to play volleyball at the University of Michigan.
After all, the senior committed to the Wolverines back in ninth grade, and even served as the team’s “ball girl” while in junior high.
The real surprise happened moments after the conclusion of Mercy’s “Senior College Bound Athlete Event” in the school gymnasium, a signing ceremony for Mruzik and eight other classmates held Monday. That’s when a 3-foot-tall trophy was brought into the room and given to Mruzik, signifying her selection by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association as the top senior in the state.
“I knew I was nominated,” she said, “and I talked to Andrew (Thompson, assistant coach), who told me they would make the announcement sometime around the quarterfinal, and I had forgotten about it. I had signed and was taking pictures when our (athletic director), Nancy Malinowski, stopped everything and they brought the trophy out. Me and my family all just started crying.”
Mruzik had 305 points in the voting, leading the 10-candidate field by a wide margin. Schoolcraft High School’s Andelyn Simpkins was the runner-up with 165, followed by Brighton’s Celia Cullen with 134 and Ann Arbor Skyline’s Kendall Murray (a future Michigan teammate) with 116.
“All the girls I was up against are great volleyball players, and I was just excited to be a finalist,” Mruzik said. “When I think back on all the girls who were Miss Volleyball over the years, they all left amazing legacies at their schools, and that’s what makes it so special. This is a lot different from other awards I’ve received.”
That’s saying a lot, considering she competed for the United States Girls Youth National Team that earned a gold medal during the U-18 World Volleyball Championship in Cairo, Egypt, this September. The Livonia resident was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Since returning from the Middle East to rejoin her high school teammates, Mruzik hasn’t let up. The Marlins (55-1) are ranked No. 1 in the state’s largest division, and have earned Catholic League, district and regional titles. If all goes well in three matches this week, Mercy will earn its first state championship.
“We are in the last week of the season, and that’s really sad because I enjoy this team so much,” Mruzik said. “We’re aiming to be at the last game on Saturday (for the state championship), but we’re not getting too caught up in the state tournament run.”
Despite missing 21 of Mercy’s matches while playing in the world championship tournament, Mruzik leads the team with 415 kills this season. She has a .534 hitting percentage (around .250 is average for a good outside hitter). She has a 92.6 serving percentage with 42 aces. In the intense regional semifinal match against archrival Birmingham Marian on Nov. 12, Mruzik had 44 kills in 60 attempts and a .684 hitting percentage.
“She’s absolutely wonderful,” coach Loretta Vogel said. “I first met Jess in seventh grade, and she was quite talented then. She’s very versatile when it comes to the game itself — she’s our primary passer, statistically solid as a hitter and a very strong defender.”
The 6-foot-1 Livonia resident first started playing CYO volleyball in fourth grade at St. Edith, and has also played for the Team Detroit and Legacy clubs.
“I like to make my teammates better,” Mruzik said. “I’m playing for my team, whether it’s Mercy, or the University of Michigan. I’m representing my school.”
Mruzik plans to graduate from Mercy in December and enroll at Michigan early. She plans to study “something in the medical field,” an interest that was piqued after watching her older brother Travis recover from two anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.
“I also considered Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Michigan State, but honestly choosing Michigan was a no-brainer for me,” Mruzik said. “They’re a really competitive team, and I’m really excited about the signing class we have. We have a setter, a libero and another outside-middle hitter coming in; they’re all hard workers who are going to improve the team and help build the program up.”