Jenna Mullen went from a hopeful participant to a team leader in her first year playing volleyball for Portland State University.
When Mullen first walked onto the Portland State campus down on SW Broadway, a whole lot of nerves rattled through the former Emerald Ridge High graduates mind. It was the first time she was on her own in her volleyball life.
“I was nervous at first because I didn’t know many of the girls like I did back at Emerald Ridge,” Mullen said of her frame of mind. “I’ve played club and high school volleyball with those four girls (Isabelle Zubrod, Jessica Smith and Audrey Saelens) my whole life, so coming here was different, a little (nerve racking) at first.”
After shaking off the nerves, Mullen had an award winning season as the Viking true-freshman earned Big Sky Conferences Outstanding Freshman after leading PSU in kills (308), aces (31) and points per match (361.0).
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Mullen was also the only freshman and the only PSU Viking listed on the Big Sky’s season awards. Her season stats for kills and aces were all freshman highs in the Big Sky conference.
“I just know I led the conference (in freshman stats), and I was the only underclassman ever in the top-10 for three of the categories,” she said.
It was a historical year for the PSU true freshman.
I wanted to get in there and make an impact — see what I can do for the team. (But) I was really nervous and scared because I didn’t know what to expect.
Mullen’s start to the season was unfamiliar for the former Jaguar as she struggled with anxiety and her role on the Vikings team. At Emerald Ridge, Mullen was the star, the standout that set school records. But none of that mattered once she got to PSU.
It was a different world for the freshman.
“I wanted to get in there and make an impact — see what I can do for the team,” Mullen said. “(But) I was really nervous and scared because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I could do it and stuff, as I didn’t really know if I could play.”
“Those first couple of games I was really scared.”
That mindset led Mullen to a pedestrian start for the Viking freshman as she only tallied 2.4 kills per game. It was a struggle to cope with the difficulties of Division I volleyball.
I just kept working hard throughout the season, and practiced like every practice was like a game.
But then words from PSU assistant coach Eric Leibbranct motivated his freshman.
“(Leibbrandt) told me one bench, and he tells me ‘You know you only have one kill right?’ and it was the second set. I was thinking this was not good — I need to be doing more for the team,” Mullen said of their meeting. “Then I started thinking this is just like high school (volleyball). I started using that mentality, put that in my head … that was a personal goal.”
Leibrandt’s words and Mullen’s understanding that the work she put in during the offseason in preparation for PSU and the Big Sky. The slow start was not who Mullen felt she was as a player, and it was not how she was going to end the season.
Hard work has to pay for something.
“Hard work is really only going to motivate you to do better, and I know I worked hard during the summer,” Mullen said. “I just kept working hard throughout the season, and practiced like every practice was like a game.”
Right from that change, Mullen was a different hitter for PSU volleyball as she began dominating the conference like no freshman had done before.
I want to come in next year the way I finished my freshman season. I know I’m capable of playing at this level now, and I want to lead the conference in stats.
It was her time to shine, and Mullen was not going to waste her moment.
After the first month of the season, Mullen began her charge up the season standings. Towards the season’s end, Mullen was the only freshman ranked in the top 10 in kills and aces, a turnaround made only months before.
“(Leibrandt) told me later on that I was top 10 in kills, and I was like ‘Really?’”, Mullen said. “But then he (joked) that ‘Now you only have 4 kills this game. What are you going to do?’”
What Mullen did was continue more of the same — putting in the time and making an impact for Portland State volleyball.
“Hard work — I was thinking about everything that I’ve worked for this season, and about everything I’ve done,” Mullen said. “It all just kind of helped (it) click.”
With year one in the books, Mullen now looks to continue her Big Sky dominance and push PSU into the next level as a program.
“I want to come in next year the way I finished my freshman season,” Mullen retorted. “I know I’m capable of playing at this level now, and I want to lead the conference in stats.”
And goal No. 1 for the freshman: the Big Sky kills title.
“That’s the one I want to win the most,” Mullen said.