Panther freshmen reflect on 1st season, look ahead

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Eastern freshmen Kristen Jankowski (left) and Mackenzie Duvall keep stats from the sideline during the Panthers’ five-set win against Chicago State Nov. 11 in Lantz Arena.

The Daily Eastern News

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Eastern freshmen Kristen Jankowski (left) and Mackenzie Duvall keep stats from the sideline during the Panthers’ five-set win against Chicago State Nov. 11 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino, Volleyball Reporter

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They may not have played this season, but Mackenzie Duvall and Kristen Jankowski’s first season as members of the Eastern volleyball team was far from uneventful.

When the season ended on Nov. 16, the book was closed on a season in which the Panthers went just 3-26, including 1-15 in conference play. It also saw the departure of head coach Julie Allen, who recruited Duvall and Jankowski to Eastern. Allen’s contract was not renewed after two seasons as the program’s leader.

But despite the ups, downs and tumults of a losing season, Duvall and Jankowski said they gained valuable experience they can use going forward.

“For me, the season was very much about growing and learning how to fit in with the team, how to use what I know to get better,” Duvall said.

Jankowski said that a preseason concussion led to her sitting out the season, and although she would have liked to play, she thinks she was able to observe important things from the sidelines.

“It’s been difficult being in practice and not being able to play,” Jankowski said. “It sucks a lot.”

She said that learning from her older teammates throughout the season made her experience more enjoyable and enriching.

Of course many of the experiences this season were new for Duvall and Jankowski, including their duties during games. They both monitored progress during the game and kept track of trends and statistics.

Duvall said she kept track of Eastern’s passing off of opposing serves, ranking them on a scale of 0-3.

“Zero is if they shanked it and couldn’t make a play, one is if they made a play but you only had one option to set, two is when you could have two set options and three is a perfect pass, where you could set anyone you wanted to,” Duvall said.

Jankowski monitored passing as well, but also tracked Eastern’s hitting with a color-coded system, designating errors, blocks, attempts and kills.

Another new dynamic was created for Duvall, Jankowski and the team as a whole with the news of Allen’s exodus from the program. But both said that they have dealt with coaching changes in the past and think that can help them navigate this change.

“I never had the same club coach for more than one year,” Duvall said. “I kind of know that different coaches have different expectations and different ways of doing things, but they all have the same goals.”

Jankowski said she had an experience with different coaches when in high school.

“My freshman year, I transferred schools to a better volleyball school,” Jankowski said. “It makes you realize that not every single coach is the same. Just try to adjust and not get frustrated. Listening to what they have to say and not complaining, just absorb every critique they make.”

Duvall and Jankowski also said that they are thankful for Allen recruiting them to Eastern. Neither said that they were considering Eastern until Allen approached them and invited them for a visit.

“(Allen) saw me for the person I am on the court, how I handled stress and difficult situations,” Jankowski said. “Talking to her made me realize that she cares for us as individuals.”

Duvall said she was unsure if she even wanted to play in college but met Allen at a recruiting combine and decided to come on a visit.

“I had an official visit and really liked the girls and how everyone interacted with each other, so that’s what drew me here,” Duvall said. “Part of why I chose here is because (Allen) was accepting of me being very raw, athletic but not fine-tuned. That was something she saw in me that a lot of other coaches didn’t.”

Moving on to a new season and a new coach, Jankowski and Duvall said they are eager to earn more playing time.

As a setter, Jankowski was behind Bailey Chandler and Breanna Jager on the roster, in addition to the injury. With Jager graduating, Jankowski hopes to see the court next season.

“Going out there and playing again, that’s what I am looking forward to,” she said. She also said she is excited to get to know her teammates better and meet the incoming freshmen as well.

Duvall, a middle blocker, was blocked on the roster by senior Maggie Runge and sophomore Hannah Sieg. Runge led the team in kills and hitting percentage and Sieg led the team in blocks.

Duvall said she is excited to try to earn a spot with Runge moving on.

“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to earn a spot on the court and even if I don’t earn it right away, being able to work toward it,” Duvall said. She added that she was able to learn a lot from talking with Runge and other teammates during the matches.

Duvall and Jankowski will be two of six sophomores on next season’s team as the program looks to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons.

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]