Rich Hidy, Sports Editor
Jeni Houser has held strong despite the adversity that the Notre Dame volleyball team has faced this season in the arena.
In a year of transition in which the Irish finished the season with a record of 13-18 with a 7-13 ACC record in the Irish’s inaugural season in the conference, Houser was a consistent force on which longtime Head Coach Debbie Brown could rely. Houser started all of Notre Dame’s 31 regular season matches, making her one of five Irish players to earn a place in the starting lineup for every game. Houser was also second on the team with 311 kills, trailing teammate Toni Alugbue in that category by 33.
Houser, a 6’3 junior from Kentucky, will be expected to lead the charge next season after proving herself a leader in her first two at Notre Dame. (Houser was named to the First Team All-Big East team her sophomore year and was second on the team in kills in 2012.) Houser, majoring in American Studies, and Alugbue—who were both Honorable Mention All-Americans—will lead an emerging 2014 squad with a nice mixture of experience and determined youth expecting to make an impact.
The Rover interviewed Houser about her volleyball career and her hopes for her senior campaign.
Irish Rover: How did a great high school program like Assumption prepare you to play volleyball at Notre Dame?
Houser: Assumption was a nationally ranked volleyball program and we played the best of the best high school teams. It prepared me for the high caliber of play that happens in Division I volleyball. I was always fighting for a position on my high school team and there was never an easy day in the gym.
Why did you choose to come to Notre Dame rather than elsewhere?
Graduating from Notre Dame really means a lot to me. The community support was the number one reason, but also gaining a better education for myself really motivated me to pick Notre Dame. The volleyball program offers its student-athletes many opportunities that most other collegiate athletes won’t be able to experience in a lifetime, such as a team trip to Europe.
What did you learn last season during your big season in which you were named co-MVP?
I learned that I need my teammates more than anything to win. If not for the passers and my setter then I wouldn’t have had the offensive threat I provided the team last season. I also learned that communication is key. It also made me very confident and I am not afraid to step on the court and make a difference.
What is your favorite thing to do at Notre Dame besides play volleyball?
My favorite aspect of attending school here is walking around the campus and feeling blessed to know I go to an amazing school that provides me so much more than just an athletic experience. It makes me so happy to see families walking around the quads and sharing the same happiness I have when I step out of Walsh to head to class or practice.
How have athletics contributed to your overall growth as a person?
It has made me a better leader. I can take my leadership skills not only on the court but off the court as well, especially when I work on group projects for certain classes. I am able to step up or step down in order to get the best results possible on the court and off.
How has Notre Dame challenged you academically?
It is tougher academically as a student athlete but it teaches us awesome time management skills. It’s definitely hard but at the end of the day, I know it will be worth it to work hard for four years and graduate from Notre Dame. It has also challenged me to think about what I actually enjoy studying. I started off as a Business major and I am now American Studies, and I love it.
What do you think about the spiritual aspect of Notre Dame? Does spirituality play a role in your life on campus?
I think the spiritual aspect of Notre Dame is incredible. I am surrounded by many opportunities to grow in my faith by going to mass in my dorm, mass in the Basilica and trips to the grotto.
How much of a leadership role have you taken on this year’s team?
I think my leadership role is more on the court than off. I believe the team looks at me to make clutch plays under pressure situations. I perform better when I am under pressure. It gets me fired up and I will do whatever it takes to win. I just hope the girls see that and learn from it.
What has the transition into the ACC been like for the team?
The transition has been a little different. The competition is a lot better than the Big East and we are traveling everywhere. There have been many times where we have come back from games at 1 or 2 in the morning on a Monday morning and then have to go to class and perform academically. I think the professors are really working with us, and I believe the transition will be a lot smoother next year. It has been an exciting experience.
What is your mindset going up for the ball when a kill opportunity presents itself?
I just want to kill the ball and put up a point. Confidence is something I think about everyday. When I take a moment in the team room before the game starts, I always spell out the word “confidence” to tell myself that I can do this and not to be afraid. I also visualize some of my favorite plays to remind myself that I can do the same thing over and over.
Rich Hidy is a sophomore business major and journalism minor. He resides in the official dorm of the Rover, Dillon Hall. Contact him at email@example.com.