Meet Standout Volleyball Player Jess Schmidt

This month’s Athlete of the Month Article will be a Q&A with standout volleyball player Jess Schmidt. Jess is committed to play Division 1 volleyball at Bellarmine University next year. Let’s hear more from her directly as she reflects on her time at St. Francis as well as her goals for her future in the sport! 

What are some of your earliest memories in the sport? 
“I first started in fifth grade playing for my middle school team at St. Pets, and I began playing club volleyball by sixth grade. I remember being coached by my mom and being super interested in volleyball since I wasn’t all that interested in basketball. I made the ‘A’ team, which gave me an unnecessary ego boost, and I started wanting to become really good at volleyball.” 

What do you enjoy most about volleyball?
 “There’s not much I don’t enjoy about volleyball, but what I love most is the team aspect of it all. It really takes every person on the court and bench to make a difference, and you can’t really just have one ‘amazing’ player. Since there are three touches in volleyball, all of those touches need to be good to score. I love working together with my teammates to achieve a common goal.” 

What was volleyball like at St. Francis? What was the dynamic of practices like?
 “Volleyball at St. Francis was truly special. Our head coach Lisa Ston worked hard to tackle what we needed to work on, coming up with practice plans to work on what we were doing poorly in the last practice or match. Coach Ston is incredibly knowledgeable about the sport, and she also has such a kind heart that makes it easy to talk to her. At times, I even started calling her mom. Her assistant coach Erin is also awesome, and she would work a lot with our setters. She provided a fun and light atmosphere whenever things got tense.” 

What are some of your major accomplishments and awards in the sport? 
“By far, our biggest accomplishment was winning State my senior year. It was genuinely a feeling like no other. My senior season started out rough because our team wasn’t connecting super well. However, somehow by the time playoffs began, we managed to come together and literally became a family. We did this bonding activity led by Coach Ston, and it was like a switch was flipped. We won regionals for the 30th+ year in a row, and we were so happy to keep that streak alive. From there, I knew we were going all the way!” 

What has been your favorite memory playing volleyball? 
“Winning Super Sectionals was probably my favorite. This game is super intense, and I’ve been dreaming of winning it since we lost it my freshman year. Going to State is on the line, so both teams are going to give it their all. We beat Metamora, who was the number one team in our division, and it really felt like we were the underdogs taking over. Just the moment of winning that last point, when I lifted up my libero Liv Basel and saw my coaches so incredibly happy, is something I’ll never forget.” 

What has been the best piece of advice you have received from a volleyball coach about the sport or life in general, and why was that advice so impactful to you? 
“My sophomore year for club volleyball I had this incredible coach Trish Samolinski, who I still keep in touch with. Since we lost a lot of our freshman year to Covid, this was my first year playing really competitive club volleyball, and I was usually a nervous wreck. She told me this silly phrase ‘wet duck it.’ Ducks don’t get wet; instead, the water rolls right off their backs, so she would tell me to do the same when I made any error. It was a silly and lighthearted way to give me some confidence back, and I loved hearing ‘wet duck it, Schmidty!’ From the sidelines. It would make me laugh, and I’d be ready for the next play.” 

How have your family/friends supported you throughout the sport?
 “My family has been the most supportive, and I’m so lucky to have them. My mom is at every game, and she gets upset at the idea of not being able to be at all of my college games. My uncle is there every chance he gets with his camera taking awesome pics of not only me but my teammates as well. If my grandparents are unable to make it, they’re watching from home on a live stream; I honestly don’t know the last time they missed a game. My friends on the court always have my back and support me through my ups and down throughout the game, and I also have awesome friends that I would often see in the stands cheering me on. I feel an overwhelming amount of support from all of them.”

Do you have a favorite volleyball coach from your years doing the sport? Why is that coach so special? 
“I’ve been lucky to have several incredible coaches. During my freshman club year, I was not that great and fell behind my teammates a lot, but my Coach Laura Bugarin always believed in me and really kick-started my love for volleyball. But I definitely owe a lot to Coach Ston. Her passion for Francis volleyball is contagious, and she genuinely wants the best for every single one of her players. I could always come up to her for literally any kind of advice, and she was always willing to sit down and talk to me. That is a really special relationship that I hold close to my heart.” 

What advice would you share with young athletes interested in doing volleyball? 
“I would say to focus on your mentality. Coach Ston always says, ‘Volleyball is 90% mental,’ and it’s very true. Work toward having a good mentality, being a good teammate, and being able to ‘wet duck’ your errors. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your coaches for this as well; they were in the same spot as you once!” We cannot wait to see where Jess’s talent and love for the game will take her next year at Bellarmine!