By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo -- KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jessica Mruzik might have been hard to find for a stretch Monday, but rest assured, she had no interest in hiding at the Kansas City Convention Center.
The powerful hitter for the Legacy Elite (Michigan) vaulted her team off to a great start, hung back in the shadows, then delivered some killer blows as Legacy claimed a 25-21, 16-25, 15-12 victory over Texas Image to win the 18 Elite championship at the Triple Crown NIT. In a contest where the teams traded serious shots from powerful offensive sequences, the match was tied as late as 9-all in the third set.
Paige Briggs (heading to Western Kentucky for college volleyball) came through with a kill and a difficult dig, which was converted into another point on a swing by Allyson Severance (Miami-Ohio). Mruzik, who still has until 2020 before heading to Michigan, converted to make it 14-12, then served an ace for match point, a nice counterpoint to the second set that saw her play more in the background.
“When I’m struggling, I think of the most effective way I can help my team if I’m not playing one part of my game as efficiently as I’d like,” said Mruzik, whose flying kills from the back row provided many highlights in the first set. “I try to help my team out in other ways; if I’m not hitting well, I want to step up my passing.
“The (last serve) … that was great. I really wanted to get that ace.”
Texas Image had a few too many service errors and other mistakes to survive Set 1, but the team came at Legacy in waves in Set 2, with the kills from Azhani Tealer (Kentucky) reverberating through the hall. Molly Phillips (Texas) and Sophia Miller (Arkansas State) also broke loose offensively as Texas Image rumbled ahead in a set that was once as close as 11-10.
Legacy needed to make some adjustments before the third set, and they seemed to work as the Michigan squad took an 8-4 lead. Texas Image tied it at 8-all as Legacy settled for tipping the ball over the net, but that last push fueled by Mruzik and Briggs did the job.
“Paige does things you don’t expect – at 5-foot-10, she touches 10-3, so she can be deceiving. What she did in the third set, she’s such a great kid and a great player,” said Legacy coach Ricky Cottrill. “I flipped Jess and Jessica Robinson to start the third set to get a bigger block on (Tealer), and we got some momentum early. Paige did what she needed at the end.
“For (Mruzik), she takes a lot of swings, and I think she was running out of steam. I get after Jess; she’s one of those kids you can yell at, and she’ll respond. It’s a delight to be able to coach her.”
Robinson (Michigan) had important kills sprinkled throughout the match, including one that put Legacy up 21-18 in Set 1 and 13-11 in the third set.
“After Game 2, we said we knew we were the better team, and that was sloppy play by us. We had to focus on our jobs, not to do too much more or less,” Robinson said. “Play clean, support each other, and we’re not going to let anything hit the ground without, like, eight people diving for it.
“It feels amazing (pouring in points). Obviously the kills feel awesome, then you turn around to your teammates, and they are all screaming in your face, you hold your hands up. It’s great to feel the momentum, and you know your kill gets everyone ready to go.”
Legacy was 8-1 overall at the TC NIT.