Source: Hometown Life
Author: Dan O'Meara
Lauren Hunter and Jessica Mruzik are the leading hitters on the Mercy High School varsity volleyball team, but they're doing double duty out of necessity these days.
With veteran setter Liz Susitko sidelined with an injury, they're also sharing that role and setting the ball for each other and the team's other hitters.
The makeshift system worked well Wednesday night and helped the host Marlins earn a four-set victory over state-ranked Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, 25-21, 25-19, 19-25, 25-14.
"It was a sweet win for us, just knowing the two of us, me and Jess, are out of position because we're both outsides," Hunter said. "For this game, because our setter was out, we had to step up. Everyone was being so patient and accepting with us, not being hard on us. It just made us believe we could do this."
Mruzik is a 6-foot freshman and all-round player who has had an immediate impact at the varsity level. She's athletic, can pound the ball on the attack and moves well on defense.
"It's definitely pressure (being a freshman on the varsity) just because I'm so young," she said. "I'm the youngest one on the team, but the girls have done a great job of supporting me and helping me transition from middle school to high school. They've just been great about it with me getting on the varsity team this year."
Susitko injured a knee two hours before the Sept. 14 match with Catholic League rival Bloomfield Hills Marian. Coach Loretta Vogel had to adjust her lineup quickly.
"It was a matter of, 'How do we make this work?' because it's all a puzzle," she said. "If you remove someone to go to another position, everything has to change, so it isn't just an easy one-step fix.
"For a while, we were running a 5-1 offense with Jess. We felt we could incorporate more, so we gradually brought Lauren into this whole scheme. We didn't have Lauren for a while, either. She was out almost two weeks as well. We just had to make it."
Vogel added Mruzik has really nice hands, making her a good choice as an alternative setter. Furthermore, Mruzik and Hunter communicate really well on the court, she added.
"We went to a tournament last week and everything was coming together," Vogel said. "We were happy over the weekend and you could see the benefits today as well."
Hunter and Mruzik played major roles in the Marlins (28-4) closing out the victory over the Fighting Irish, who are Catholic League champions and the No. 4-ranked team in Class B.
The fourth set was tied at 8-8 before Mruzik killed the ball twice to give Mercy leads of 11-8 and 12-10. Hunter followed with a service ace, which prompted the Irish to call a timeout.
Following the brief break, Hunter served another ace, then she and Mruzik combined on a block to make the score 15-10.
"Those were two crucial points in turning the momentum," Hunter said of the aces. "I feel like, in the middle of the game, whenever it's tight like that, if you can have any sort of breakaway, it just helps so much toward momentum."
Mruzik sandwiched two more kills around a point for Richard, resulting in the Irish taking another timeout. It also prompted the Mercy student section to chant: "She's no freshman!"
"It's always been a dream of mine to hear that," Mruzik said. "It was so awesome having those kids do that. We've been so fortunate to have so many kids come out every single game and it's such a blast having them here to cheer us on."
Sophomore Mallory Conrad served another Mercy ace coming out of the last timeout. Mruzik also had an ace for the 21st point before the Marlins scored the last four in row. Hunter put the exclamation point on the win with a kill for the final point.
"When we got to 18 points, I could feel we definitely had it in the bag, because we were just so high on momentum," she said. "I feel like anything we did, even if we made a mistake, that we would just bounce right back."
The victory over a quality opponent bodes well for the Marlins, she added. Mercy is a Division 1 honorable mention in the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association rankings.
"I think it shows we can win the Catholic League, because the way we played tonight, no one is going to beat us," Hunter said. "We're just going to roll through everyone who's on the other side of the court."
Senior Jurnee Tipton, a 5-9 outside hitter, sparked the Irish with her powerful hits and straight-to-the-floor kills. Mercy managed to overcome that in the first two sets and then neutralized her to a large degree in the fourth.
"We made adjustments on the net," Vogel said. "In the game, they were successful, I think we had four attack errors and you just can't do that against these kind of teams. It's difficult to make up those points.
"We knew it was going to go to (Tipton in the fourth set). We moved different people who had to be on her. Jordyn (Kreucher) went on the right side to give her more in the blocking. Jess was on that side. We needed a little bit of height and jumping ability to take away some of those shots or get a touch and make her think about it.
"One of the fortunate things is we have a group of athletes here that I'm able to move to different areas on the net and even defensively. You get them as freshmen and we train them to be flexible. It worked tonight."
Mruzik said the Marlins lost some energy in the third set and needed to get it back.
"We just got together and said, 'We need to pick up the energy and we need to finish this game,'" she said. "This is a game we really wanted to win. I'm so proud of our team."
Vogel added the victory was a team effort, citing some of the other players who made key contributions.
"I thought Bella (McDonald) had the best game I've ever seen her play," she said. "She'd use the block and get us points. I thought all the girls performed well in certain areas, whether it was Allie (Sanderson) and Gracie (Kane) digging, Mallory serving or Jordyn in the middle. Everyone had to do their role to be successful tonight.
"A couple times, we'd execute an off-scheme. You just can't do that against Richard, because they're so fast. They just bring the ball up and immediately hit it back at us. As the game wore on, we knew what we could perform and what we couldn't."