BY MASON PLUMMER / Ball State Sports Link
Expectations can be exhausting.
As soon as you do something great once, rather than it being celebrated, it becomes expected. This is especially true in sports, where greatness, however difficult, becomes expected, and when there is any level below greatness, it is a failure.
These expected performances and consistent tremendous play are not realistic and no one knows that better than Ball State men’s volleyball player Kaleb Jenness. Jenness has always been a standout volleyball player, but a rough patch at the beginning of the 2021 season sent Jenness looking for answers.
“Teams were starting to watch a lot of film on Kaleb and defend against his favorite shots,” Ball State volleyball head coach Joel Walton said. “He had to make some adjustments. It came with plenty of frustration but he’s become better because of it.”
The 6-foot-6, 170-pound junior out of Mount Pleasant (S.C.) Wando has shone brightly for Ball State throughout his career, even in his freshman season.
It is rare for an underclassmen to earn the kind of playing time Jenness had in 2018, but he took it in stride and continued to improve.
Playing as an outside attacker, according to Ball State Sports, Jenness has over 500 kills to his name as a member of the Ball State men’s volleyball team.
Named to the All-MIVA First Team in 2020, Jenness appeared in 17 matches and 59 sets with a career-high 26 kills against George Mason.
Things were trending in exactly where Jenness hoped and wished, until they weren’t. An untimely knee injury last season, along with the season being shut down due to COVID-19 made for a tough couple months for the outside hitter.
“The nearly year off of real competition messed with my game,” Jenness said. “I still practiced volleyball during COVID-19 and I still am but I am not where I want to be yet.”
Confidence is a massive factor in all sports, but volleyball especially. Jenness knows that when he is playing confident, he can be the best player on the court. However, if his shots are off that day and he is not hitting his spots, he may be in for a long day.
“Things are just a little bit different this season for myself and the team,” Jenness said. “Quinn [Isaacson] sets the ball a little bit differently, we have different sets and serving patterns, stuff like that. It comes down to me getting out of my slump and getting into a groove as well.”
Ball State returned many of the players on the 2020 team that looked to be bound for glory. Graduate senior libero Nick Lavanchy, senior setter Quinn Isaacson and junior outside attacker Brandon Shepherd round out a talented bunch that came into the 2021 season with sky-high expectations.
No expectations were higher for a single player than for Jenness, though. Whether it was self-inflicted or from the people around him, everyone knows how talented and how great Jenness can be.
Jenness himself knows it too, which is why there was visible frustration on his face during the first several matches of the Ball State volleyball season. Something was off.
“For the first time, I had to take a real step back,” Jenness said. “I had to talk with coaches, look back at film, sit down and really analyze what I was doing and why I was not at the top of my game.”
The belief in himself never waivered, however. Jenness knew he would come out of his slump and the team would become better from it. He just had to give it time.
“I know our offense has been good but I am still working on some kinks,” Jenness said. “The nearly one year off had me out of rhythm but I am almost back and at the top of my game. In the next game or two, you’ll see my full potential again.”
This, while admittedly frustrating for the high-flying outside hitter, was the best thing that could have happened for his game. Since his self-reflection and look back at his individual game, Jenness has been lighting it up for the Cardinals, just as he said he would.
“At the top of his game, Kaleb is one of the best players, if not the best, I have ever coached,” Walton said. “He can have a real shot at playing for the United States men’s team if he keeps playing like he has been recently.”
Last week, Jenness was the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Offensive Player of the week after leading the Cardinals to a 7-1 overall and 4-0 MIVA record.
Now, with the Cardinals in midseason and Jenness in full form, the rest of the league should be put on notice. Ball State was missing a true outside hitter presence in its first handful of games this season and it was glaringly obvious.
For those who have watched Ball State volleyball, there were balls set in Jenness’ direction that would normally end in a kill, but they weren’t.
They are now and no one is more excited and happy to continue tearing it up on the court than Jenness.
The Cardinals return to the road for the second straight week when it travels to Ohio State Thursday, March 11 in MIVA action. Ball State will look to regroup after suffering its 3-0 losses at Lewis last weekend.