Jenna Ewert was a highly-decorated volleyball recruit who nonetheless found a highly-decorated player filling her position upon her arrival at the University of Colorado.
The fact that player, Brynna DeLuzio, was only one year ahead of Ewert and just months removed from playing a prominent role on an NCAA Tournament team made Ewert's push for playing time even more challenging.
During the preseason, however, Colorado coach Jesse Mahoney had a revelation. If his club wanted to optimize the talent on its roster, the answer wasn't to play either DeLuzio or Ewert. Mahoney opted to play both.
A shift to a 6-2 attack earlier this season allowed the Buffs to fully utilize that talent, though a midseason injury to DeLuzio prompted a return to a 5-1. Yet like DeLuzio last year, Ewert has taken quick control of the Buffs' attack despite being a freshman, and also like DeLuzio a year ago Ewert will be a key figure in CU's hopes of advancing in the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season when they face South Carolina Friday afternoon in a first-round match at Minnesota.
"In the preseason we evaluate all our players and every option as objectively as we can," Mahoney said. "Coming out of the preseason Brynna was giving us the best option to win and we kind of started the season that way. Very quickly when injuries kind of hit and we needed more offensive options, we looked at the 6-2 and Jenna...a bit early on, I wouldn't say she was struggling, but it took a little bit for her to get her feet under her. That 6-2 option was a good way for her to do that.
"As the season progressed, she kept getting better. Then, unfortunately, we had the injury to Brynna. Once Jenna got the opportunity to run the 5-1, she's really blossomed. It highlights some of the things she can do really well from a blocking standpoint, from an attacking standpoint. And she's a really good team leader, just like Brynna was as a freshman."
In numbers slightly skewered against the competition because they were sharing the workload, Ewert finished 12th in the Pac-12 Conference with 6.75 assists per set, with DeLuzio finishing right behind her in 13th at 5.93 assists per set. DeLuzio played her final game before getting sidelined on Oct. 28 against Washington.
Over the final eight games, which included a 5-3 record for the Buffs and three consecutive road wins that proved crucial to CU landing its second consecutive tournament berth, Ewert averaged 11.8 assists per set. That run included a memorable 60-assist performance in a five-set victory at Oregon State on Nov. 18. Ewert also posted 10 blocks and eight digs in that win, becoming just the second CU setter to record 10 blocks in a game and falling only two digs shy of becoming the first player in Buffs history to post a triple-double without recording 10 kills.
Ewert and redshirt freshman Anyse Smith were named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
"My expectations definitely were exceeded," said Ewert, who is from Antioch, Calif. "I was just thankful to get on the court, and my expectations were to just get better and work hard and mesh with the team. It happened a lot quicker than I thought. With Brynna, I definitely wasn't expecting to run a 5-1 my freshman season.
"I didn't think I could love the sport more than I do now. Being on the court full-time right now honestly is a dream come true."