By Michael DeBates
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Cyclone volleyball outside hitter Carly Jenson's career at Iowa State has been quite the journey. The Omaha, Neb.-native has gone from spotty playing time her first two years to a starting role in which she is one of the team's go-to players offensively.
Jenson unexpectedly had to make the transition to starter when junior Rachel Hockaday went down with a season-ending ACL injury in the second match of the 2010 season against Florida.
"It was tough watching Rachel go down and hurt her knee," Jenson said. "But I was a junior when it happened and just felt like I was ready to step in and fill her role. It was a huge role to fill because she plays all the way around, but it was definitely something that I knew I could do."
Iowa State Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch helped mentor Jenson into making the transition from bench to starter.
"Carly's worked really hard to get where she is," Johnson-Lynch said. "We tell our players on the bench all the time that they're one injury away from becoming a starter and that's what happened in Carly's case. She is where she's at today through sheer hard work and determination."
Jenson took full advantage of the opportunity to answer the team's call, finishing second on the team behind All-American Victoria Henson with 3.04 kills per set and second behind All-American libero Ashley Mass with 3.13 digs per set. She led the 2010 Cyclones in service aces with 24.
In 2011, Jenson has picked up right where she left off last season, leading the No. 15 Cyclones (16-3, 7-1 Big 12) with 3.80 kills per set, ranked fifth in the conference. Her 4.25 points per set also ranks fifth in the league and CVU.com named her a Top Performer earlier this season.
The senior's versatility, Johnson-Lynch says, is the reason she loves having Jenson on the court for every match.
"You really need that one player who can play all the way around, and Carly is very comfortable doing that," Johnson-Lynch said. "She's very experienced and been in a lot of tough situations. Carly's a great player who really understands the game well.
"She's got great ball control that allows her to pass well," Johnson-Lynch continued. "Carly can get kills in transition and tough situations, where some outside hitters just try to keep the ball in play."
Despite being only 5-11, when most outside hitters are on average around 6-2 or 6-3, Jenson has become one of the league's best at the position, making adjustments to make up for her size.
"I can't go out there and play like I'm 6-3 and hit the ball straight down over a block," Jenson said. "I just have to change how I think about things, whether it be hitting really high or just hitting smart shots."
During Jenson's time at Iowa State, she's made a lot of special memories and had the opportunity to play on some very good teams.
"When we beat Nebraska at Nebraska for the first time ever it was awesome," Jenson remembered. "It was awesome when we beat Texas a few years ago here and the fans rushed the court too. All of our NCAA appearances (two Sweet 16s, 2008 Elite Eight) have all been great memories as well."
Due in part to Jenson's gaudy offensive numbers and leadership, the Cyclones are first in the Big 12 this season and earned the No. 3 Ratings Percentage Index when the NCAA released the first rankings of the season last week, the highest RPI ranking in Iowa State history.
"The beginning of the season started great," Jenson said. "We got a huge win at Florida then hit a little bump in the road losing to Nebraska and UNI. We're slowly starting to get back to where we were at the beginning of the season, and we're all very excited to play Texas again."
Jenson's journey is something any high school senior looking to play big time college sports should admire.
"It takes lots of hard work," Jenson said. "You've got to be dedicated and love what you do. You can't go in with a negative attitude just thinking everything is going to work out. It's a must to stay positive and be patient."