Jones makes her mark as a freshmen

Doug Gulasy

Fans at the M.A.C. Center heard a certain phrase a lot at the Kent State volleyball team’s matches last weekend.

“Point, Gooolllddennn Flashes — number nine, Lauren Jones!” the arena announcer said with enthusiasm each time the aforementioned player scored another point.

Jones, a freshman outside hitter, registered 46 kills and 36 digs in the Flashes’ three matches last weekend, a performance good enough to get her named to the Mizuno/Golden Flash Invitational All-Tournament Team.

“It’s a really big honor,” Jones said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all, and I was just thrilled and excited. It’s not just for me, though; it’s for my team, too. They helped me to where I am right now.”

Right now, Jones ranks second on the team with 131 kills and 21 service aces, one behind senior Anja Knabe-Paulsen in each category.

Coach Glen Conley is not surprised that Jones is contributing so much as a freshman.

“She’s the total player in every phase of the game,” Conley said. “She’s a primary passer, she is a go-to hitter, she is a back-row attacker, she is one of the best servers on the team and defensively, she’s phenomenal.”

Those traits made Jones a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association High School Senior All-American Team in 2007. Though many college coaches recruited her out of East Kentwood High School in Kentwood, Mich., Jones chose Kent State based on the team, coaching staff and university itself.

“I liked the team, like the atmosphere that they had here, and I liked the coaching staff,” Jones said. “I just really liked the school itself. It had all the programs that I wanted academically and everything, so it seemed like the whole package.”

Still, it wasn’t Conley who recruited Jones. She signed with Kent State in December, more than a month before Conley was named the new coach.

She admitted she was a little nervous at first at the news of a new coach.

“I just kind of freaked out at first, like, ‘Oh my gosh, what if I don’t like the coach and everything?'” Jones said. “But once I actually talked to Glen and (new assistant coach) Genoa (Moxley), they seemed really nice, and they seemed like we would get along good, and it turned out working out better than what I would’ve hoped for.”

Jones also said it helped that one held over from the previous coaching staff, assistant coach Tarah Beyer, stayed with the program.

What did Conley say that calmed Jones’ nerves?

“I just told her I was really excited to get the opportunity to coach her,” he said. “Lauren is a tremendous talent and everybody knew that.”

Now opposing college coaches are finding that out firsthand.

“I think she makes (coaches) stay up late, and I think she makes them get a lot of gray hair,” Conley said. “She is so flexible, she’s so versatile. She’s so versatile that it’s really, really hard to slow her down. I think if I were coaching against her, I would just say, ‘Look, Jones is going to get 20-some kills and we’re going to have to shut some other people down.'”

Shutting down other players has also been difficult for opposing coaches. The team’s record is 9-1 heading into its matches at the Clemson Classic in Clemson, S.C., this weekend.

“It feels awesome,” Jones said. “It’s great being a part of it, and I only hope for the best this season. We’ve got to keep working hard because nothing’s just going to be handed to us. We’ve got to keep going at it.”

Though no Mid-American Conference championship banner for volleyball currently hangs in the M.A.C. Center, the Flashes might finally get one this season if Jones has anything to say about it.

“I hope we can go far and do the best that this program’s ever done, and then some,” she said.

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].