Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our Senior!

A great deal has happened since I last wrote, and I will in time try to put into words what it was like for this team to reach it's goal of winning the first ever SAA Championship.  However, I want to take a few minutes now to highlight a player who was such a huge part of that journey - our senior, Jenn Tinnell!

Jenn Tinnell came in as a freshman as part of the first class to be recruited under NCAA rules at Berry. As a member of that class, she was slated to compete for four years with no post-season play as Berry was just starting the four year transition from NAIA to NCAA.  As a freshman, she played primarily right side for us and was a major contributor.  Going into her sophomore year, we were expecting more of the same.  She had a great preseason, and I had submitted our starting line up for our first match with her number on it.  Two minutes before the game started she went up for an attack and came down what appeared to be a little off balance.  She started walking towards the bench and I met her to ask, "Are you okay?"  Her response..."I think I just tore my ACL again."  As a coach, you hurt when your players hurt, and there have been very few instances that I have hurt any more for a player than I did watching Jenn sustain that injury and then go through an incredibly extensive surgery and rehab to repair what ended up being very extensive damage to her knee.  Not only did she not return to play her sophomore or junior year, but no one (including our coaches, her parents, or our trainers) expected her to return for her senior season.  She had been able to play tennis again, but we all thought volleyball was out of the question.  However, Jenn had other plans.

Jenn has always epitomized "team player," and she desperately missed playing a team sport.  She trained on her own all spring and summer of this year in the hopes of proving to herself, her coaches, and her parents that she could return to play volleyball.  She came to see me in late June / early July long after our roster had already been solidified for this fall to ask if I would be willing to give her a chance to come back to play on the team.  At that point, she had not played competitive volleyball for almost two years, and my first response was concern about her being disappointed in what she would be able to contribute now versus what she contributed as a healthy, talented freshman.  After consulting with her parents and doing a bit of soul searching regarding her motives, she and I agreed that she could come back to join the team.  However, we did decide that it would be in her best interest not to play a front row position that would require a lot of jumping.  So, she would become a 5'10" defensive specialist who also happened to be one of the smarter hitters I have ever coached.  As a coach, I really didn't know what to expect from her physically, but I did know that she would make our team better with her work ethic and her team first mentality.

The first day of preseason brought the expected physical testing, grueling two a day practices, and tests of mental toughness.  What stands out the most to me both then and now from that day was the pure joy that was emanating from Jenn.  It didn't matter how tough the drill was, how tired she was, or what position she was playing, she was ecstatic to be back with her teammates playing the game that she loves.  I mentioned that I had noticed her big smile during the first practice and how happy it made me to see her back on the floor, and she merely responded, "It's SO MUCH FUN!!"

As the season progressed and her younger teammates developed meaningful relationships with Jenn, it was no surprise that she was selected as one of the co-captains.  She brought a consistently positive attitude to the gym and her work ethic and attitude constantly reminded all of us to not take one day for granted.  On a team that consisted of 10 of our 15 players being freshmen and sophomores, her maturity  coupled with her experience brought so much to the gym.  Her skills returned quickly and just got better as the season went.  By the end, her ball control, and particularly her serve receive, was one of the biggest components to our success this season.  She played well enough as a libero (a position she had never played prior to this year) to be named to the 2nd Team All Conference and make the SAA Conference All Tourney team as well as be named MVP of the Berry Invitational.  However, beyond all of her great play, it is Jenn's humility, love for her team, and calm under pressure that we will all miss the most!  As her coach, it has been a pure joy to have been along for the ride with her this year and watch her overcome so much to lead her team to the greatest season in Berry history!

Enjoy some highlights from Jenn's career...