After winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) last season, making the NCAA tournament and returning all but one player from last year’s squad, two freshmen this season are making an impact on the powerful Rowan volleyball team.
Outside hitter Jena Kaul and defensive specialist and libero Vanessa Hutchinson are the lone rookies on Rowan’s roster this season, but they have both been thrust into pivotal roles on the team. Their individual successes and teamwork have been the main factors in the Profs 14-2 record for the year.
For Kaul and Hutchinson, the strength of the team, academics and Head Coach Deana Jespersen’s coaching were the main reasons why they chose to call Rowan their home.
“I’m engineering [major], so that was a big choice. First, I had to pick schools on my list that had engineering,” Hutchinson said. “Coach Deana [Jespersen] was the first coach that I reached out to, that started sophomore year, and then throughout junior year, I committed the end of junior year going into senior year, but was always in touch with her. It felt so right to come here. It wasn’t even a hard decision at all, I just knew.”
Kaul adds on to how her journey started with the Profs.
“Funny enough I wasn’t even looking at Rowan in the beginning of my recruiting process, but I went to prospect camps during my club season and Coach Deana [Jespersen] was there she was emailing me, and that’s how I got recruited here,” Kaul said. “And for academics, I’m a physical education major, and I hear that their education majors and colleges are top tier, so that’s for sure why I chose it.”
Both Kaul and Hutchinson have gotten solid playing time, each has played in 16 all matches and has played a key role in their respective positions.
Kaul sits second on the team with 120 kills, averaging around 2.35 kills per set. Kaul was rewarded with her strong start to the year grabbing NJAC Rookie of The Week on Sept. 7.
As to why she has been so successful this season, Kaul cites her teammates and her work ethic as being the main factors.
“I think my team has definitely helped me, pushed me in the preseason, and worked hard,” Kaul said. “Being a freshman I wanted to go out there and show who I am as an athlete and as a person and I think that was my goal for this freshman season.”
Hutchinson notes the team’s trust and chemistry as reasons why she is able to do her job on the court.
“Definitely our team is built on trust, and we’ve had so many conversations about that and I feel like the girls around me trust me to get the ball,” Hutchinson said. “And we don’t have to worry about jumping in front of each other, I just go for what’s mine and I’m not scared I’m going to run into anybody, we have that really good court chemistry. Just the trust thing, it’s all there, I just have fun when I play.”
Adjusting to college life while playing a sport and being challenged academically is not an easy process, but for these two Rowan volleyball stars, they have had each other by their side throughout the entire process.
Hutchinson notes that the two are roommates, so they have each other on and off the court.
“She [Kaul] kills it out there, in practice, she’s making everyone else better, she’s super competitive. She’s also my roommate so we always come back and talk about practice and I’m just excited for the next couple of years when we get to play on the court together,” Hutchinson said. “She just brings a different energy, she’s just so fun to be around, she’s fun to play with.”
Kaul appreciates Hutchinson being there for her, while praising her work on the court.
“100%, I don’t think I could honestly do this by myself,” Kaul said. “I think she’s doing amazing, I think it’s funny how we sub out for each other, so I think that’s awesome. But she has been a huge factor on the court, she goes out on the court, she does her job well. And I also think she has been a really big supporter of me. When I’ve been frustrated I go to her, we talk about the game a lot, we help each other out in this transition of playing college volleyball and being freshmen and being in college life.”
While Kaul has been the main piece in the Profs’ hot offense, Hutchinson has been a huge factor on the defensive side, being second on the team with 149 digs and 2.61 digs per set. This past week Hutchinson was named NJAC Rookie of the Week as well.
“It’s really awesome, it’s nice to just be rewarded out there,” Hutchinson said. “But at the same time I know I couldn’t have done it without everybody else.”
With older, more experienced players also on the team, it gives Kaul and Hutchinson role models, which has impacted their game.
Hutchinson is grateful for the seniors who play the same position as her and can show her the ropes.
“I love the fact that this team is so competitive and winning. But it makes Jena [Kaul] and I want to work that much harder. We talk and we’re like ‘we wanna be on the court when that happens,’” Hutchinson said. “I love it, I get to look up to the four ds [defensive specialists] seniors, Simone [Sparano], Julia [Bowes], Dani [Emrich] and Jackie [Camponelli] and I know that in my mind if I didn’t get court time this year I was going to be able to learn so much from them because they both play in the two positions that I’d be playing in in five and six.”
In addition to Hutchinson, Kaul has looked up to outside hitters Natalie Ogden and Brianna Newson.
“I think Natalie [Ogden] and Bri [Newson] have been my biggest role models because we are all playing the same position,” Kaul said. “They always tell me ‘go out there, do your job, have fun, don’t create any unnecessary stress for yourself because you’re a freshman’ just go out there and play the game, do your job and do it well.”
The already dominant Rowan volleyball team has become even stronger with Kaul and Hutchinson on their roster and the impact they have made on the team as youngsters haven’t gone unnoticed. The rookies have had each other throughout the transition to college and have been making their presence known on the court. Coach Jespersen and the rest of the Profs team have a bright future with these two at the helm.
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