Making an impact

Henry 225x150

Projecting the contribution of freshmen in university sports is always an uncertain prospect, both for coaches and fans alike. Often, it’s a new recruit’s job to simply gain experience and focus on learning from upperclassmen so they can help the team in the future. It is rare that freshmen student-athletes will contribute immediately at a high level.

At least, that’s the case most the time. To say the play of Janae Vander Ploeg, Trianna Henry, and Payton Bock, three freshmen playing on the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks volleyball team, is an exception to this rule is an understatement; through a combination of talent and leadership, these players have made an immediate and substantial impact on the team and the conference.

The trio made their season debut on August 24 in a 3-0 sweep of Citadel, and have shown no signs of slowing down. Since then, the Lumberjacks have posted an 18-3 record, following their recent 3-1 victory over Idaho State on October 20.

Accepting the challenge

Vander Ploeg and Henry, both exercise science majors who play the outside hitter positions, were not actually anticipating significant playing time on the university’s squad as new recruits.

“With how much we’ve been playing so far – it was not anything I expected,” Vander Ploeg says. “But I knew if I worked hard and I just kept going hard every practice, I might have a chance to play on the team and make an impact.”

Bock, a criminology major and middle blocker for the team, says her 6’3 height and experience made her one of head coach Craig Choate’s top recruits; however, she acknowledges that it is an honor to start as a freshman, and doesn’t want to take that position for granted.

“Coach always told me that he needed me, so I’ve always wanted to live up to those expectations,” Bock says. “I came in knowing that I had a job to do, and I work hard every day trying to be better and trying to make a bigger impact. It’s such a privilege to be on this team.”

Bock and Vander Ploeg start and play the majority of the team’s points, whereas Henry plays significant minutes off the bench. Despite the team’s success (the Jacks are currently tied for second in the Big Sky Conference with Idaho State), Henry admits it took some time to adjust to the higher level of competition.  

“The level of play is completely different,” Henry says. “Every team is really good and you have to work hard to win each and every point.”

Finding support, on and off the court

Vander Ploeg cites the support of the upperclassmen as a critical factor in her smooth transition onto the team. 

“Everyone has been great,” Vander Ploeg says. “I think they just know what it’s like to be a freshman on the court and everything that you go through freshman year. They’ve all been so helpful, and they’re great teammates and great leaders.”

Support from off the court has been just as instrumental in the helping the three adjust to the sport and the university community.

Henry says her fellow students are always quick to congratulate players on the team’s latest win. She believes this sense of camaraderie has allowed the players to better adapt and to feel more at home on campus.

“We have so many fans at home games, and they congratulate you even if they don’t know you personally,” Henry says. “People always want to know when the next game is. The community has been so supportive and awesome.”