But athletics are only part of Mlekush’s story. Away from the school, he’s active in First Family Church, which occupies a great deal of his time.
“I’m pretty heavily involved with my church group,” Mlekush said. “We go on what I guess you would call field trips. We do stuff where we go hiking and stuff like that. I’ve been going to church since I was a baby.”
Mlekush picked up volleyball this year through the influence of friends on the team. His previous experience in the sport was limited: his sister Akasha, also an Antioch graduate, played volleyball as a Panther and Jared would occasionally hit the ball around with her.
Mlekush’s participation in organized, competitive volleyball, however, is limited to this season. While he’s relatively new to the game, his coach, David Driskell, said his leaping ability and strong hitting skills have made him a natural talent.
“If he would have started as a freshman or even younger than that, he’d be going somewhere on a volleyball scholarship,” Driskell said. “He’s picked it up that well.”
That observation is echoed by his teammates, who feel he’s a natural at the sport. Outside hitter Robert Smith has been a teammate of Mlekush in basketball since they were freshmen, but has played volleyball for four years, and is impressed by his teammate’s mental and physical tools.
“He listens, he knows how to talk, and how to act and work hard when he plays,” Smith said. “He’s picked it up very well. He’s strong and tall and mentally smart about the game.”
Senior opposite hitter Muhammed Ikharo said when Mlekush started playing volleyball, his skills were noticeably unrefined. But after a few weeks of practice and work with Driskell, he became one of the team’s better players.
“He has a determination to win in any sport,” Ikharo said. “No matter what’s happening, he’s still trying and pushing other players. He never gives up.”
In addition to his natural athletic ability and drive, Mlekush has impressed his coaches with a strong attitude and academic standard. Driskell said he couldn’t remember ever attending an academic awards ceremony in which Mlekush didn’t receive some kind of honor.
Following graduation, Mlekush plans to go straight to a four-year school. Ideally, he’s looking to the state of Washington, as that would give him a chance to be closer to his grandparents, who live a short drive from the University of Washington’s campus.
“I applied for an ROTC scholarship with the Navy,” Mlekush said. “If I get that, then I’ll be going to a four-year like Washington or Washington State.”