This year’s season will be anything but normal for the Michigan volleyball team. But amidst the chaos, a source of familiarity lies within for six members of this year’s Wolverines’ quorum: they all played for the same club team prior to arriving in Ann Arbor.
Kendall Murray, Jess Mruzik, Jess Robinson, Hannah Grant, Abbey Malinowksi and Maddie Dowd all played for Michigan’s Legacy Volleyball Club. Touted by its own website as Michigan’s number one club volleyball program, Legacy has garnered a reputation around the collegiate volleyball community as a breeding ground for elite-level talent. And Michigan coach Mark Rosen’s program seems to be a common destination for many of the club’s top level recruits.
“When I was going through the recruiting process, everything was being compared to Michigan,” Mruzik, the 2019 Gatorate National Player of the Year and a Legacy product, said. “It felt like a second home, a second family.”
Of course, Mruzik is not the only highly decorated member of this year’s Michigan team, nor is she the only of the Legacy bunch. The group consists of former Miss Michigan volleyball finalists, All Americans, Detroit Free Press Volleyball Player of the Year finalists, and Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year finalists.
The influx of Legacy players to Michigan has created a quasi-pipeline between the two programs that will likely continue to flourish for years to come. Often, players are attracted to the program because former Legacy players that they looked up to were Wolverines.
“I came in with Jenna Lerg, who was a senior captain for (Michigan in 2018),” junior outside hitter Abbey Malinowski said. “I had always looked up to her when I was playing club. She was always a stud at Legacy, and she came here and had a really good career.”
Having points of contact in Ann Arbor that they got to know while playing for Legacy made it very easy to learn about Michigan volleyball for players like Mruzik and Malinowski.
“Players like that made it easy to want to follow in their footsteps,” Malinowski said.
Even if there is no established relationship between the two programs, Michigan coach Mark Rosen sees noticeable similarities in players that have made the transition between the two programs.
The players that have come out of Legacy are very well-rounded players, Rosen said. Additionally, the program fosters competitiveness and produces players that come in with a different mindset than most high school players.
“… I think they do a great job of developing and nurturing competitive players. For us, it’s hard to teach that to an 18-year-old, how to be competitive. When they come out of Legacy, they’re already competitive, it’s something that has already been nurtured along the way.”
It is an added advantage that players from Legacy are able to fit right into the culture at Michigan because of the players they already know from club play.
“I think it’s cool being able to already have an established connection with a lot of the players on the team,” Mruzik said. “On the court, the connection that we’ve made from playing together at Legacy and transferring that here makes almost every part of the game easier.”
Added Rosen: “From a coach’s perspective, watching Jess and Hannah (Grant) pass next to each other, they did that for a whole club season. It’s really interesting to see somebody come into our program and be so comfortable passing. That takes time, it takes a lot of development, and it’s been really cool for that to happen quicker.”
With Legacy being such a high-level program, it just makes sense for them to link up with the Wolverines time and time again. The proximity of Legacy — based in Oakland County — and Ann Arbor creates a symbiotic relationship that continues to progress as each program improves. Legacy has become an increasingly competitive force within the club volleyball scene, similar to the Wolverines, who look to build on last year’s 24-11 overall record.
As more and more of Legacy’s best players matriculate to Ann Arbor, a culture is developed that is already familiar for new recruits. It continues to be grandfathered through each generation.
“It trickles down,” Malinowski said. “We obviously are all super competitive, and we love each other on and off the court. We love to play together.”
It’s no coincidence that a large portion of Legacy’s talent ends up coming to play for Rosen. Michigan already has its foot in the door with them, and having a program like Legacy in their backyard will help the Wolverines extraordinarily down the line.
“We’ve benefited from numerous classes that have come through there,” Rosen said. “We get to know these guys better because they’re close. We’ve known them for a long time, and that certainly helps the process.”
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