Halfway through her second season on Rowan’s volleyball team, Jena Kaul is showing her improvement as she’s stepped into a new leadership role for the Profs as they fight for a playoff spot.
Kaul’s love for the game started early. In fact, it was during a P.E. class that she really grew fond of it.
“We played volleyball in gym class, and ever since then I fell in love with it,” Kaul said. “My first club was by my house in Metuchen, New Jersey, and ever since then I’ve loved it.”
Entering the second half of this season, Kaul has already passed her total in kills (212), attempts (625), and points (233) from last season, and is on pace to earn even more.
“Last season, Natalie Ogden and Brianna Newson were here, so I was fighting for a spot against two seniors,” Kaul said. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play because of an unfortunate injury to Newson. Then this year I feel a lot more comfortable on the court having to round the team up and be that person to be on the court and get the job done.”
Head coach Deana Jespersen’s early impression of Kaul was a great one, and not for any reason related to her performance on the court.
“I was in the middle of my breast cancer fight when I found Jena. I think that she and I are very connected,” Jespersen said. “She saw me at my worst and that didn’t bother her or faze her. She understood that even at your worst, you can still find ways to be at your best and that was a really cool beginning to our relationship.”
Because of that, Kaul and Jespersen share a special connection that’s felt on and off the court.
“Coach [Jespersen] is like a mom away from my own mom, having her there knowing I can talk to her about volleyball, school, relationships, literally anything,” Kaul said. “When it comes to volleyball, she’s always had high expectations of me and never lowered those expectations and that made me be the player I am today.”
After just two short seasons with the team, no one has had a better view of Kaul’s growth than Coach Jespersen.
“I think last year she wanted to be the best player that she could be, but she didn’t know how to do that,” Jespersen said. “This year, she’s really learned how to take coaching and understand how to apply that to her game and stand out that way, so it’s been really fun to watch that transition in a short amount of time.”
Despite this sophomore season breakout, Coach Jespersen believes that the best is yet to come.
“I anticipate that she’ll be one of the best players that ever came through this program, and I don’t mean skill-wise,” Jespersen said. “I think her passion and her love of Rowan volleyball, her love of the team, and her drive to win, and to be better every step of the way. I think she’s going to be a great leader in the future to be able to push this team to another level.”
One thing that has helped elevate Kaul’s game has been her split-second reaction time. In addition to her body, she’s also been able to train her mind and reflexes, so she feels like she’s always in the best situation possible.
“We listen to podcasts about self-talk, how to be a champion, play like a champion, and what that takes, and I definitely find those helpful,” said Kaul. “Focusing on myself and my job on the court, not worrying about outside factors like the crowd, the referees, or the other team, when I go into tunnel vision and my mind becomes very focused.”
With the team hitting the midpoint in their season, Coach Jespersen’s focus is to get the Profs prepared for the playoffs, and Kaul is a key piece to that puzzle for Rowan’s success.
“I think her drive to win is certainly going to push the team to the playoffs,” Jespersen said. “I think the team is going to follow her because her passion is real, she wears it on her sleeve.
The team is certainly looking forward to the chance to play in the postseason.
“We have a lot of games that we can for sure win, so I’m looking forward to seeing how we deal with the adversity that comes our way,” Kaul said. “This is our time, we’re in our month so I think carrying that throughout the rest of the season is going to be really exciting to see.”
Rowan’s next challenge occurs on Saturday, Oct. 14, when they play a doubleheader against NYU and Northwestern. They’ll return to their home court on Thursday, Oct. 19, for a match against Ramapo on the team’s Senior Night.