Bloomfield Hills — Jess Mruzik couldn’t hold back the tears this past July when she learned she had made the United States Youth National Volleyball Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Mruzik, a 6-foot-2 junior outside hitter at Farmington Hills Mercy, was among 20 players competing for 12 spots for the U.S. Youth Team that would be competing in Honduras to try and help the team qualify for the World Championships next summer.
Mruzik didn’t just earn a spot on the U.S. team; she also was named a captain and then earned MVP honors for leading her team to the 2018 NORCECA Girls U-18 Continental Championship.
Mruzik is The Detroit News' No. 1 area player for the 2018 volleyball season. She will try to help Mercy return to Battle Creek to compete in the state finals after falling to Birmingham Marian in last year’s Class A semifinals.
“We were in Honduras for 10 days competing against central, north and southern American teams,” said Mruzik, noting the journey began Aug. 24 and ended when she returned home Sept. 2. “We flew down to Houston, that was our meeting place, stayed the night there and practiced at a local club and then the next day we were in Honduras. We played six days and it was an unreal experience.
“You think you’re good playing against other high school and club teams and then you go play internationally and it’s a whole different ball game. Not even playing against international teams, but just training with some of the best girls in the country that were on my team and you could tell the difference from how I started to how I finished.
“After playing against all the international teams you get a taste of what good is really like, so coming here I’m setting my personal expectations really high. I want to reach the highest level possible so I’m just trying to help out my team the best I can with taking some of the things I learned with playing for USA and bringing them back here.”
The versatile Mruzik says improving her serve receive is a big goal for this season.
“Serving and passing has really impacted the game and it will win you or lose you matches, so I think that anyone can improve on that all the time no matter how good you are," she said.
“I think my strength is being able to stay in six rotations, play front row and back row. Internationally you only get six subs so you have to stay on the court, and it’s valuable to teams now to have people that can go all the way around.”
Mercy co-coach Andrew Thompson knows he has a special player in Mruzik.
"When I found out she made the U.S. Youth National Team I wasn't surprised," said Thompson. "It validated everything I already knew. The sky is the limit for her, and aside from volleyball, she's a great kid."
Mruzik has been a Michigan commit since the start of her sophomore season.
“I was pretty heavily recruited when I was young and I grew up a die-hard Michigan fan so any college I visited, it was nothing like Michigan," she said. "The family atmosphere that the coaches and staff provide for you and the fan base, there’s nothing like it.”
Mruzik dreams of making the U.S. Olympic team one day. She has made the first step and plans on playing on the U.S. Youth team again next summer before hoping to land a spot on the U.S. junior national team and then ultimately the senior team.
“You do two years in each group, pretty much a feeder program for the Olympics,” said Mruzik. “I’ve always wanted to play in the Olympics since I was a little kid.”
More top players
2. Alexa Rousseau, 6-3, Jr., S-OH, Bloomfield Hills
Rousseau, a Northwestern commit, has the size and power to dominate at the net and the skill set to run the offense as a left-handed setter. She has averaged 4.5 kills and 8.8 assists to help her team to a 9-4-1 start.
“She’s a once-in-every-30-years player,” coach Larry Wyatt said. “I’ve worked with tall players over the years, but she’s left-handed, moves very well. What’s most exciting is as good as she is, she gets better daily and the sky is the limit on how much she can dominate play.”
3. Maddy Chinn, 6-3, Sr., OH, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Chinn, like Rousseau, has tremendous size at 6-3 with the ability to hit with power.
Chinn, a Purdue commit and Miss Volleyball candidate, had 682 kills her sophomore year, then followed that up with 647 kills with a .400-plus hitting percentage to help Notre Dame Prep win the Class B state championship.
4. Madison Dowd, 5-8, Sr., S, Birmingham Marian
Dowd, a Georgetown commit, had a strong junior season to help Marian reach the Class A state championship match.
“She’s a great leader who is very calm, definitely the backbone of our team,” coach Mayssa Bazzi-Cook said. “She’s very smart when running our plays and is a phenomenal defender.”
5. Paige Briggs, 5-11, Sr., OH, Lake Orion
Briggs, a Western Kentucky commit, is an outstanding athlete who has tremendous leaping ability and hits with power.
“Paige can touch 10 feet so she can get up high and put the ball down,” said coach Tony Scavarda. “She plays all six rotations and passes the ball well.”
6. Kendall Murray, 6-1, Jr., OH, Ann Arbor Skyline
Murray, a Michigan commit, is a strong all-around player for Skyline, using her size and skills to play at a high level, averaging 10 kills during the first 14 games.
“She can really terminate the ball from the outside and she’s a great leader for us both on front and back row,” said coach Chris Cristian.
7. Julia Bishop, 5-10, So., S, Farmington Hills Mercy
Bishop stepped right in and helped Marian reach the Class A state title match while running the offense her freshman year. She is already being recruited by a number of Big Ten schools.
“She ran our offense last year and is doing an even better job this year,” Mercy co-coach Andrew Thompson said. “She’s one of the biggest competitors whether it’s in practice or games. She can raise the level for our kids and makes everyone else around her better.”
8. Natalia Risi, 6-0, Sr., OH, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Risi displayed her potential in last year’s Class B state championship match, contributing a match-high 17 kills and a .471 hitting percentage, along with 12 digs in a sweep of Lake Odessa Lakewood.
Risi, a Ball State commit, finished with 467 kills, 441 digs and a .350 hitting percentage.
9. Wren Macaulay, Sr., S, Lake Orion
Macaulay runs the show for Lake Orion as an experienced setter, making things easy for talented front-row players in Miss Volleyball candidate Paige Briggs and Sydney Smith.
“Wren Macaulay is the best setter in the state in my opinion and does a great job of running our attack,” said coach Tony Scavarda of Macaulay, a New Hampshire commit.
T10. Celia Cullen, Jr., S-OH, Brighton
Cullen, a Michigan State commit, has developed into a player who can set and terminate the ball from the outside.
“Celia can set extremely well and has the ability to set balls very high into the pins while even out of position and also has a great vertical when hitting on the opposite side,” coach Scott Pitcher said.
T10. Hannah Grant, Sr., Libero, Northville
Grant, a Michigan State commit, is an outstanding defensive player who gets things started for Northville.
“Hannah is a four-year starter for us and is by far the best libero I’ve seen in coaching volleyball for 25 years,” coach Julie Fisette said. “She has great court sense and can play any position. She actually set for varsity her freshman year.”