By Anna Kayser
Senior middle blocker Jess Janota not only brings a dominant offensive force to the Iowa volleyball rotation, she also embodies the intensity that helps fuel the team.
For the Oct. 4 match against then-No. 22 Michigan, the Iowa volleyball coaching staff switched up the lineup, moving Janota from the M2 position to the M1.
In that position, she plays in an offense run by freshman setter Brie Orr in the front row, as opposed to the M2, where Orr is coming from the back row. This distinction allows Janota to attack the ball from behind the setter in the slide more often.
“[Hitting in the slide] is the strongest part of my game, so it just gave me more opportunities to do that, whether it’s been serve receive or transition and just kind of helps the overall team,” Janota said.
In her first match in this rotation, a four-setter against Michigan, she recorded a tie for the team-high with 17 kills.
Janota has the ability to jump-start her team with her competitiveness. Head coach Bond Shymansky calls it her “beast mode.”
“Yeah, he likes to call that,” she said and laughed. “It’s just like my competitive attitude coming out. I like it because it gets my team going, and it’s really for that purpose. It just kind of is contagious on the court and kind of gets the whole team going, which is what we need.”
During practice this week, Shymansky asked the Hawkeyes who they think their fire-starter is. They all said Janota.
“We need to be able to feed her, and she needs to be able to ignite things and really terminate the ball with aggression,” Shymansky said. “When she goes into beast mode, it’s something that our team will rally around and follow, and everybody wants to compete harder.”
Janota has appeared in every match during her Hawkeye volleyball career, which she entered as a freshman. She is part of the first class Shymansky has seen through all four years.
The goal for her final season is the biggest one: make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“Throughout my years, I’ve seen such a huge difference each and every year,” Janota said. “To end my last year with the ultimate goal that we’ve been working up to all these four years would be going to the tournament, so that would be just awesome and just the cherry on top.”
Before that can happen, little goals need to be met along the way. The Hawkeyes are improving as they get to the heart of Big Ten play.
“I think I’m looking forward to just continuing to improve what we’re doing right now,” Janota said. “You always want to be improving in the middle of your season, and that’s exactly what we’re doing, and it’s showing when we’re playing really high-ranked opponents right now.”
Senior middle blocker Kelsey O’Neill said in the wake of Janota’s lineup change that while the rotation shifts could rattle a team, it’s all about maintaining identity and working through it.
This is key for improvement during the middle of the season and playing with heart throughout.
“I think we’re trying to make sure we stay, obviously true mental toughness, huge identity point, we want to beat the teams that push those throughout the entire game,” O’Neill said. “Especially at the end of the season, we’re the ones that are still going to keep fighting; other teams might fold, but we won’t.”