Battle Creek — There are few players in state history who have enjoyed the type of volleyball season that Jess Mruzik has experienced during her senior year.
Mruzik missed the start of Farmington Hills Mercy’s season while playing for the U.S. Girls Youth National Team in the U-18 World Championship in Cairo, earning the tournament’s MVP while leading her team to the gold medal.
Mruzik, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter, went on to earn the title of Miss Volleyball on Monday, then led No. 1 Mercy to its first state championship in school history with a 25-21, 25-12, 23-25, 26-24 win over No. 2 Lowell in the Division 1 title match Saturday afternoon at Kellogg Arena.
Mruzik and Mercy had to earn it with Lowell having a comeback on its mind, battling from a 19-17 Set 4 deficit to pull even at 24 when 6-1 senior Meghan Meyer blocked Mruzik’s shot.
Mruzik regrouped and slammed down a kill, followed by taking a pass from standout junior setter Julia Bishop and perfectly tipping the ball to an open spot on the floor to start a wild celebration that finished with Mercy coach Loretta Vogel jumping onto the pile.
“I knew as soon as I got blocked, I was like, ‘Man, I probably shouldn’t have done that,’ then I knew right after that I made a mistake and I just wanted to win that point (tip kill) and win the game for my team,” said Mruzik, who signed with Michigan, and finished with a match-high 34 kills and a .377 hitting percentage, along with 15 digs.
“As a senior it’s (state title) probably the best feeling. That’s how you want to end your high school career, with a state championship, and not everybody is fortunate enough to be in this position and we figured it out and it worked out for us.”
Mercy lost state semifinal matches the past two years, making it that much sweeter the third time around.
“Lowell played amazing, played a great game and to be able to come out on top this time is unbelievable,” said Bishop, a Michigan State commit who had 54 assists, fourth-most in a state championship match.
Mercy sophomore Amina Robinson had 22 digs and 6-2 junior middle blocker Ellen Tisko, 14 kills and a .333 hitting percentage as Mercy hit at a .282 mark as a team.
Vogel talked about the title celebration.
“I had to, you don’t know when it’s going to happen again,” said Vogel of jumping on the pile. “This is 43 years, working at this a long time, been here many times, but never receiving this final part (state title). It’s just a dream come true. Everybody plays their roles. It’s a very close-knit group and they like each other.”
So, what did Lowell do differently to get back in the match in Set 3?
“Playing a team of that caliber, I don’t think we made errors, it’s just a great swing or they served strong,” Vogel said.
Lowell coach Jordan Drake left Kellogg Arena proud of his players.
“I’m super proud of the way our girls played the entire time,” Drake said. “In Set 2 it got a little ugly at the end, then Set 3 we came out hot and in Set 4 we had our chances. They made some plays on the other side of the net. Give credit to them. They are a very good team.
“We talked in the huddle that we wanted to go five with them. We weren’t going to back down. We knew that they would get their big kills, but it was all about bouncing back.”
Jenna Reitsma, a 5-11 junior outside hitter, had 22 kills and 12 digs for Lowell with Meyer getting 17 kills and a .324 hitting percentage and junior setter Sophia Powell, 40 assists.