Like a lot of teenagers, Jenna Mullen wasn’t always inclined to listen to her mother.
Especially when the advice pertained to volleyball.
“You’re just my mom, so stop,” the standout 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter for Emerald Ridge High School remembered thinking. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
The thing is, though, Jill Mullen does. She was an honorable mention All-America outside hitter at the University of Puget Sound in 1990.
Good thing Jenna finally got the hint. The Portland State signee is Emerald Ridge’s career leader in kills (1,274) and blocks (118), breaking former University of Tennessee standout Kylie Marshall’s records (1,128 kills, 112 blocks).
And she’s also The News Tribune’s 2014 All-Area Player of the Year for volleyball.
“Now that I’ve grown up and I’m going to the next level, and she’s played at that next level, I know,” Jenna said. “I’ve been told to listen to her, and I do — now. I take it and do what she says.”
Led by Jenna and coached by Jill (alongside co-coach Bobby McGivern), the Jaguars are the top-ranked team in Class 4A — and they didn’t lose a match until Saturday’s West Central District tournament final against Bellarmine Prep, the two-time reigning state champion.
Those same Lions knocked Emerald Ridge out of the state tournament last year in the semifinals, and Jenna’s last chance for a state title will start Friday morning against Newport at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. The state tournament also is Jill’s last chance to coach Jenna, which she has done on and off since her oldest daughter was in second grade.
“It didn’t really hit me until about a week ago when it was senior night (Oct. 27), realizing it was her last home game here at Emerald Ridge,” Jill said. “I know that she’s ready for the next level, and I’m excited to see where her game is going to go.”
Jenna chose to play at Portland State in part because it’s so close to home — her grandparents live 20 minutes away — and because it’s a college where she can play, have fun and get her degree.
“She’s driven and knows what she wants,” said McGivern, who has watched Jenna on the court since she started playing with Puget Sound Volleyball Club at age 12. “To see her get where she wants to go at that next level, she’s put in that hard work. I’m proud of her.”
The state tournament also is Jill’s final chance to coach her two children at the same time; ninth-grader Jadyn, who attends Ferrucci Junior High, plays along the Jaguars’ back row.
The Mullen girls come from family with a long athletic legacy in the region: Grandfather Mike was the boys basketball coach for 17 years at Bethel High School, uncle Nick is the football coach at Timberline High School in Lacey, and father Pat – after coaching Bethel to the 2005 4A boys state basketball championship – is the boys basketball coach at Emerald Ridge.
“My kids have experienced being on the bench with (Pat), being in the locker room, being able to be their cheerleaders, their water girls, whatever, since they were babies,” Jill said. “They’ve just grown up in a gym.”
And for the few matches they have remaining, they get to grow up together.
Jadyn’s favorite part of playing with her sister is when the team’s primary setter, Isabella Zubrod, has to make a dig, freeing up Jadyn to set the ball for her sister to spike.
“If it’s off a little, I just yell at her,” Jenna said with a laugh. “It’s nice to know that came from her. It’s a little Mullen-to-Mullen thing.”
Said Jadyn, “It’s all I ever dreamed of, playing with my sister.”