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New head volleyball coach hired

May 27, 2018
By Brendon Fischel '19, Sports Editor

Coming off of a somewhat disappointing 2017 season, where the Knights finished conference play with a record of 5-6 and failed to make the MIAC playoffs, the offseason saw significant changes to the program. With the departure of Heidi Jaynes to an influential role inside the athletic department, Jaynes and Athletic Director Gerald Young spent the spring looking for a new head volleyball coach. A few weeks ago, they decided on a young coach who most recently coached at Lancaster Bible College, Jacki Smith. Smith returns to her native Minnesota after guiding her Lancaster Chargers to a 12-20 overall record, with a .667 winning percentage in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) and a berth in the 2017 NEAC Championships. She went to school right down the road at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, where she was a two sport athlete in volleyball and basketball.

Smith is extremely excited about this new opportunity to come back home to Minnesota and lead the Knights. “The opportunity to work at Carleton is so exciting for me,” she said. “I believe that the environment is a great fit for who I am and I absolutely love the high level commitment to excellence that Carleton represents.”

Not only does Smith believe she’s a great fit, but she has lofty goals for the program as well. “I’m always striving to be better,” she said. “I want to see the Knights volleyball program reflect that mentality to get to the next level. Obviously I’d like to lead the Knights program back to the top of the MIAC and bring us to a point where we are competing consistently for MIAC championships as well.”

Since Smith has already been a head coach elsewhere, she has some experience leading a program. Most importantly, she believes that it is necessary to take the knowledge she gained at Lancaster Bible College and implement it here at Carleton. “From LBC, I bring a strong understanding of how to set the tone early in the team culture and make adjustments where necessary,” she said. “I also bring a unique understanding of how to recruit to a niche environment. I know that a student has to be the right fit for Carleton before they are a fit for our program. I know how to communicate the enhancing qualities of the volleyball program to a student without making their entire student experience about volleyball.”

According to Smith, next season fans can enjoy watching a team “who constantly displays scrappy, gritty defensive effort and a never say die mentality. They should see a team that celebrates each other and genuinely loves each other.”

Smith is also bringing a style of play that will fit right in with the culture of Carleton athletics. “I want us to play disciplined, controlled first contact volleyball,” she said. “My style is gritty defense, and smart offense. My expectations are high and I take a no excuses approach. However, off the court, my style is laid back, fun and I love to laugh. The team will definitely be in store for some fun team bonding activities.”

Since Smith has been on campus, she has lead volleyball’s spring practices for the past two weeks, and has been getting rave reviews by her student-athletes. Captain Jona Plevin ’19 said that, “Spring practices have been great! We have been focusing a lot on getting back to basics like passing technique and ball control. While we all know how to do these things, Jacki has specific ways she likes to teach these, and we’ve seen massive improvements in the 3 practices we’ve had so far!” Captain Elyse Wanzenried ’19 added that although it is tough to pair the heavy lifting program with practices, “overall [she’s] been happy with how things are going. There is definitely a lot of improvement going on in the gym,” she said.

The captains also seem to agree that Smith, as a coach, brings a lot of great things to the table. Wanzenried commented, “She brings a drive and intensity that I really enjoy, she’s determined to see us push ourselves and that really empowers us to take risks and support each other. She also equally emphasizes the relational aspects of being a teammate that contribute directly to performance and method, helping us build lasting relationships and a legacy of closeness that will transcend our individual team.”

Plevin added that the biggest thing that Smith brings is a set of fresh eyes to critique and help improve the team. “She had never seen us play before she came, so she was able to start fresh with us as a team,” she said. “We are redefining what we want the reputation and legacy of the program to be and are able to implement that in practices to prepare for the coming years.”

Smith herself had great things to say about the three captains, Wanzenried, Plevin and Faith Skinner ’19. “They are bright, driven and competitive,” she said. “I’m excited to invest in them as leaders and see how they impact our team. The team as a whole is hard working and they have a desire to learn and hold each other accountable. I’m excited for what the future holds with them! I see us being able to do BIG things!” Overall, Carleton volleyball is bringing back 9 student-athletes for next season, not including the incoming first-years. With the captains taking the lead, and all of the talent coming back, Plevin is optimistic about next season. “We have the potential to do great things next season,” she said. “I think having a set of fresh eyes to build the program only helps us reach our goals.”

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