Alyssa Jensen might have microchips in her mind. The standout setter for St. Joseph’s Academy’s volleyball team processes such a vast amount of information in such a short amount of time it’s staggering. “In a split second, I think about a million things,” Jensen, 16, says.
Exaggeration? Not as much as you might think. Jensen, a 5-foot-11 junior, orchestrated a dominant Angels’ offense that was missing two of its biggest contributors to knee injuries. She did it by instinctually rolling over a laundry list of variables in her mind. “First I think, Who are my hitters? Second I think, Who are the blockers? Then I try to figure out how to get my best hitter against their weakest blocker,” Jensen says. “Then I think about their defense and where they are weakest.”
She then has to figure out if there are holes in that defense where she can sneak the ball over the net for a dump. She looks to see if the opposing blockers are cheating one way or the other. She has to know her defensive alignment to not put her own team at a disadvantage. And on and on and on—and she does all of this in the amount of time it takes for most of us to sneeze.
Then there’s the fact she has to set the ball and, you know, actually put the ball where it needs to be—which is another quality that makes her so dynamic. Her setting is immaculately accurate. “She can take a bad pass and turn it into a good set,” St. Joe coach Karen Davis says. “That’s what separates the good from the great.”
And Jensen is great—so great that she’s been filling up her trophy case with all kinds of awards. She’s been named to the all-state first team the past two seasons. She set the school record last year with 989 assists. And it’s not like the Angels haven’t had their share of talented volleyball players come through. This season, she racked up 783 assists, 182 digs and 33 aces—a team high. She was so good that she snared one of the biggest prizes last week when she was named the Missouri Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year. She is the first Angel since Kristin Folkl to receive this prestigious award.
While Jensen’s performance on the court has been among the best, the Gatorade Player of the Year award isn’t based solely on athletics. It takes into consideration academics and community service. Jensen maintains a B-plus grade point average and has volunteered her time and services at Shriners Hospital for Childen, among others. “It’s a huge honor to get this award,” Jensen says. “I was really surprised by it.” Jensen already is looking forward to her senior season, if only because it’s going to be the toughest challenge she’s faced yet. She’s committed to play volleyball for the University of California. Her soon-to-be college coaches asked if she could graduate St. Joe early and join the team in the spring of 2013. It’s a daunting task, but it’s one Jensen says she’s up for. “Senior year will not be something I can just go through,” she says. “It’ll be tough but I think it’ll be worth it.”
To earn enough credits to graduate Jensen took summer school before her junior year and will do so again this summer. She’s doubling up on many of her courses senior year and when not playing or practicing will be up to her earlobes in text books. “It was hard at first. I wondered if I wanted to skip all the things that come in the second semester of senior year like prom,” she says. “But I’m going to come back and walk at graduation. I’m really excited about (going to California).”