Jenna Ewert might have played with a swagger beyond her years last season as a freshman with the Colorado volleyball team, but that confident demeanor masked a frustrating truth.
Ewert often gets nervous. Like swarms-of-butterflies nervous, and she did so before just about every match last year. Certainly it didn’t affect Ewert’s play, as she evolved from sharing time with fellow setter Brynna DeLuzio early in the season to taking over as the director of the Buffaloes’ attack after DeLuzio was sidelined by injury.
This season, Ewert reports she is far more confident and self-assured. Which is good news for the Buffs, as Ewert will have to handle the setter duties by herself.
As the Buffs convened at the CU Events Center Saturday morning for the team’s first official practice of the 2019 preseason, head coach Jesse Mahoney announced that DeLuzio will miss the season after recently undergoing knee surgery. DeLuzio will redshirt and retain three years of eligibility.
“It’s a lot like last year when we started with two (setters), and then Jenna took over when we needed her to and had a great season as a freshman,” Mahoney said. “I think she had a fantastic spring and is a team leader. We expect great things from her this fall.”
Like Ewert last year, DeLuzio was a Pac-12 Conference All-Freshman team selection in 2017, ranking 30th in the nation with 11.02 assists per set. The daughter of former CU football player Don DeLuzio, she became the first CU freshman to win the league’s Freshman of the Week honor more than once, earning that mark four times as a rookie.
Mahoney said DeLuzio competed with the Buffs during the team’s exhibition trip through China in June but was injured after returning home to Windermere, Florida.
Injuries also cut DeLuzio’s season short a year ago, yet Ewert picked up the slack as Mahoney shifted from a 6-2 approach to a 5-1 while reaching the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. In a key late-season win at Oregon State critical to the Buffs’ NCAA tourney push she became just the second CU setter to post a double-double in assists (60) and blocks (10).
With DeLuzio again sidelined, Ewert goes into the season knowing she will carry the load at setter.
“Last year I was really nervous, even though I was playing and I got lots of opportunities,” Ewert said. “Every game I was really nervous, like I was about to throw up. I think this year I’m a lot more comfortable with myself and the system and my coaches and teammates. Going in I’m a lot more calm and I think I have a lot more control with how I am carrying myself, which I hope will help me be better than last year.”
Though just a sophomore, Ewert will be challenged to take on a greater leadership role with a Buffs program that lost multiple-season standouts Alexa Smith and Naghede Abu while welcoming a total of nine newcomers, seven of which are freshmen.
“Jesse last year talked to me and said, ‘I want you to step up your leadership role sooner rather than later,’” Ewert said. “That can be hard because you can’t force anything. You can’t force anybody to follow you. It just happens naturally. I did learn a lot from Naghede and Lex. They’re amazing people. Amazing people and teammates. I was leaning on them a lot, and there comes a point when you know it’s your time to grow. I had my time to be nervous and be a freshman…now you need to give (the freshmen) the support they need.”