Jensen digs deeper into record books

Doug Gulasy

Laura Jensen is one of three seniors on the Kent State volleyball team. Jensen led the team with 17 digs Friday against Clemson. Jensen, who plays libero (defensive specialist), along with the team is looking forward to playing rival Akron at 7 p.m. Frida

Credit: Jason Hall

Senior volleyball player Laura Jensen has had a nickname for a long time.

“I started playing volleyball when I was 10 and we had two Lauras on our team,” she said. “My best friend Allison – her dad Tim was the coach; he got really sick of having to clarify between the two Lauras, so I just kind of became J.J.”

The nickname stuck, and now Jensen’s coaches and teammates refer to her as J.J. She, too, seems to have gotten used to the name.

“When they call me Laura in practice, I always give them this weird look like, ‘Why would you just call me that?'” she said. “I feel like my mom’s talking to me or something.”

Jensen said nobody had ever called her “The Human Shovel” before, but that nickname might apply to her more than J.J., which doesn’t stand for anything.

She can be compared to a shovel because of her propensity for digging, which in volleyball refers to a defensive player keeping the ball from hitting the ground after an opponent’s spike, especially if the ball is near the ground.

Jensen owns the Kent State record book in categories related to digs – she holds the career record and after breaking the single-season mark as a freshman, she now holds the top three spots for single-season digs.

Coach Glen Conley said Jensen’s defensive abilities enable her to dominate matches, which she’s done “a few times this year.”

“In volleyball language we call it ‘in system,'” he said. “That means when I can run any play in our book, any play that we have, that’s called being in system. A libero (defensive specialist) like J.J. keeps us in system a lot, so we can run any play we want to, (which) makes it very difficult on the defense, stresses them a lot and increases our hitting percentages.”

Still, Jensen wants to be known for more than her records.

“It’s nice – I’m glad that I’ve kind of left my mark on the program, hopefully for a while to come,” she said. “But I really just want to be remembered as somebody who gave everything they had to the program and played hard every day.”

That attitude caused Conley to appoint Jensen as one of the two team captains.

“The captain needs to be the hardest worker on the team, and J.J. is that,” he said. “Let’s just put it this way – nobody’s working harder. J.J. is an incredibly hard worker.

“Also, what I see in J.J. is an ability to hold other people accountable. She’s not afraid to tell her teammates and to lead them when they’re doing something wrong … which is good – it’s an accountability thing. A lot of times the hardest thing you can do is lead your peers.”

Part of Jensen’s leadership as captain includes the tutoring of the player who will replace her next year, freshman Kristen Barr.

“I definitely love being behind her,” Barr said. “I think, even coming in it’s made me a lot better because she’s able to help me out on things like watching me play and able to push me to where I have to be for next year.”

Barr added that Jensen has helped her mainly with her passing.

“She’ll help correct me if my footwork’s wrong or if I need to use my hands more with digging, or just anything,” she said.

Jensen said her teaching was “a matter of showing (Barr) the ropes of the program and how to lead.” Although Barr doesn’t really need much assistance when it comes to playing.

“She reads (opposing hitters) really well,” Jensen said. “We both make our fair share of mistakes just with being two steps too far. We both mess up, but we’re very equal, and they’ll be in good hands when I’m gone.”

Until that time, however, the Kent State defense will be anchored by the player known as J.J.

“She leads the defense,” Conley said. “She’s in the center of our play. We put her in the middle of the court so she can handle most of the balls. She’s the person we want touching the ball.”

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].