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One of the best parts about freshman is that they become sophomores. With the Oklahoma volleyball team starting three freshmen, the play of sophomore, and suddenly veteran, Jennifer Adams has been invaluable.
Following a promising first year (2002), that was cut short but a broken thumb near the half-way point, Adams has rebounded to become a force for this year's team.
The California native came into this year looking to rebound from injury and add depth at middle blocker. With one of the better middle blockers in the Big 12, Jennifer Mosso, and blue-chipper Laura Tomes coming in, time on the court had to be earned.
With nine newcomers coming in fall 2003, Adams was one of a few Sooners who was on the court during the vital spring season.
"In the spring we had no more that six girls and sometimes as few as four practicing," said Adams. "During that time I got a lot of individual attention towards improving my blocking and arm swing. It was also good to get a lot of repetitions in the middle."
The work Adams put in during the spring really caught the eye of OU head coach Kalani Mahi.
"Jen Adams performance this spring really stood out from everyone on the team," said Mahi.
The improvements made last spring have carried over into the fall and Adams is one of four Sooners to play in every game of every match this season. Adams has let her game do all her talking this season. Adams currently ranks third in the Big 12 and is on the verge of the NCAA top-30 with 1.37 blocks per game.
The statistical improvements are staggering. Consider that after 44 games played in 2002 Adams averaged just 0.68 blocks per game and has double that total to a 1.37 average. Adams current total of 64 block assists almost triples last year's production (26).
The resurgent Adams has teamed with freshman Laura Tomes to make the most dominant frontline of Mahi's tenure. When the pair has reached five blocks assists apiece, in a single match, the Sooners are undefeated (5-0) this season. OU has collected 15 total blocks in four matches this season, a number they did not reach in 2002.
The duo has meshed quickly and Adams has a lot of admiration for her young teammate.
"Tomes is such a great leaper and brings a lot of energy to the court," said Adams. "I could only wish to jump as high as her. We've have worked really well together."
On a team with freshman teammates like Rachel Jackson (10th in Big 12 assists), Joanna Schmitt (fifth in the Big 12 in kills), and Laura Tomes (sixth in Big 12 in blocks per game) the future for the Sooners is really bright. What has really made these and the rest of the freshmen so special is their ability to contribute and lead early. Their efforts have caught the eye of Adams.
"Our freshmen have been spectacular," exclaimed Adams. "You can hardly tell this is their first year. The freshmen have brought great confidence and leadership to this year's team and have really made us a better team."
There have been times the rookies have even surprised Adams with their ability.
"The first day I saw Joanna Schmitt hit I said Whoa, we are going to have a good team this year,'" stated Adams.
With the nonconference schedule in the rearview, the Sooners have built tremendous momentum with an 8-5 record. The real battles begin with early Big 12 matches at No. 9 Kansas State and with the first home match of the year against Red River Rival Texas. With conference hopes on the shoulders of Adams and the freshmen, OU volleyball is looking to make a big splash early in the conference season.
Adams has been spending late nights getting excited and talking to her parents back in California, about the upcoming Texas match. The confident Sooner, who is entering her second season in the Big 12, strongly believes that this team has all the pieces in place for a successful run.
"I couldn't think of a better way to open the home-season than against Texas," said Adams. "Hopefully we have a large crowd. That will definetely help us get the right momentum going against one of our rivals."