With Big 12 volleyball play underway for the Longhorns, it's time to focus in on the players for the 2005 Texas Volleyball season.
Sophomore outside hitter Jen Christian, of Gilbert, Ariz., a Gregory Gym favorite and one of the team's most outgoing members, made her name as a freshman in 2004. Already this season, Christian has surpassed most every one of her previous career highs and is proving to be a strong performer - and character - on this season's squad.
Christian recently took a break before practice to sit down to talk about playing on a young team, motivation, what she has learned from and about her new teammates and her discovery of her connection to a fellow gymnast ... as well as other important and interesting topics.
Q: With three freshmen, four sophomores, four juniors and only one senior, who is herself a rookie, what has the team done to let the critics know that, despite being young, the Longhorns are a force to be reckoned with?
Jen (JC): "I think showing up on a nightly basis ready to compete says a lot. People say we are young because we have more underclassmen than other Division I schools, which is true, but our attitude is far from immature. We come to play from a frame of mind that, `Yeah, we are young but we can compete with the best in the country'."
Q: Did being the youngest in your family - with two older brothers - help you face what some might call an obstacle of being on a team that is slightly less-experienced?
JC: "I talk to my brother Josh after every match and if I do not perform well, he always has a comment like, `You only had three kills' and there is always the chance that he will pick on me. It's funny because now I use it as a source of motivation. If I have a game with, like, 20 kills I look forward to rubbing it in his face. So, when I perform well he can tell me, `Yeah, you did well' and I don't worry about getting any grief. That definitely transfers over to how people look at our team as a whole and the motivation we get to prove to others we can compete."
Q: With a lot of new faces joining the team this year, who have you learned the most from as far as volleyball goes?
JC: "Heather Schreiber and I were roommates during the preseason and I think we have formed a pretty neat relationship. Our lockers are right next to each other so we can talk to each other before practice and before the games. It's really great to get her perspective on things because she has been there and done that through four years of basketball, being in the Final Four and all, and I have learned a lot from seeing how she approaches things. She is someone to look up to but at the same time she is also my teammate and a person that can make me better."
Q: What about away from volleyball. Who has surprised you the most?
JC: "As far as that goes, I was surprised to learn how goofy Lauren Paolini is. It kind of threw me for a loop because, when I first met her during her recruiting visit, she was really quiet and reserved. Since she has been here she has been a lot of fun to hang out with and does a lot of random things."
Q: What has been your best moment here at UT when it comes to volleyball?
JC: "Making it to the NCAA Sweet 16 was pretty amazing. Just being able to play in that match was an experience I was lucky to have."
Q: Did you expect that to happen your freshman year?
JC: "At first I didn't but then as we progressed through the season, I knew that it was definitely where our team was headed and we were very capable of going further. This year we are, too."
Q: Since the goal of the season is to get past the Sweet 16, how is the team approaching each conference match and what has to be done differently so you reach that goal?
JC: "The Big 12 is such a competitive and tough conference. Every team - from top to bottom in the standings - is very good and can make the NCAA Tournament. So every night you approach it with high intensity like you would have if you were playing against the best team in the nation. Every match is a big match and every game we win gets us one step closer to getting a good seed for the first round of the NCAA Tournament."
Q: Besides volleyball, what has been the best thing about attending UT?
JC: "Moving to Austin has been a great experience overall. You kind of get into the whole culture of the city here, including the live music. I like all the live music here. I never knew about Austin until I came here to play volleyball over at the convention center when I was 16 in a club tournament. It is really different from the desert where I am from and I enjoyed it."
Q: When you find time, what do you do for fun in the city?
JC: "I like to go to different restaurants, but the Hula Hut is my favorite."
Q: What do you get when you go there?
JC: "The queso for sure, it is unbelievable. The other place I love to go is the lake. My teammates and I go out to the lake when ever we get a chance. We water ski, hang out in the boat and get some sun."
Q: Are you living with athletes or with friends?
JC: "I live in a condo with another UT athlete; she is a diver (Ali Bunting)."
Q: Do you talk about sports at all or do you both focus on other things?
JC: "We talk about sports all the time. What's interesting is that she used to be a gymnast and I used to be a gymnast so we always reminisce about our gymnastic days. What is funny is that we were both at gymnastics camp together when we were like six in Wisconsin. How crazy is that! I am from Phoenix and she is from Grafton and who would have thought we would have wound up there together without even knowing it? And now all those years later, we're here together. We also have the same birthday."
Q: Really, when?
JC: "May 22"
Q: What a small world.
JC: "Yeah it is really weird because we have the same kind of background and interests."
Q: So you went to camp together when you were little and then just both wound up here and then met?
JC: "I met her here and we just started talking about sports and then got to gymnastics and we were both like, `No way!' and the rest is history."
Q: Does anyone have a nickname for you?
JC: "Yeah, most people call my JC or Jen. There are so many Jen's: Jenny Andrew, Jennifer Todd and myself, so it makes it easier for everyone."
Q: Where did you get it?
JC: "Tea (Leticia Armstrong). She comes up with most of the team's nicknames."
Q: When life at UT is over, what do you see yourself doing?
JC: "Get married and have kids right away ... nah I'm just kidding. I really don't know. I might get into personal training or maybe even team training. I could even join the beach volleyball pro-circuit. I really don't know, right now. Whatever happens, happens, and I am fine with that."