In the Locker Room: Chinwe Okona and Laura Jessee

Armed with second year Head Coach Erica Rau and a passel of first-years, the women’s volleyball team has earned a 7–10 record so far this season. This turnaround has been helmed by co-captains Chinwe Okona and Laura Jessee. This week, the Review caught up the volleyball seniors to find out more about team superstitions, hitting the floor and psyching out their opponents.

Madeleine O'Meara, Sports Editor

How long have you been playing volleyball?

Laura Jessee: I’ve been playing volleyball since sixth grade, and I’ve played club since eighth grade.

Chinwe Okona: I’ve also been playing since sixth grade. I never played club, and I also took a break for two years to do marching band. [Laughs.] In ninth and tenth grade of high school I did marching band. And then I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

How is the team dynamic different from previous years?

LJ: It’s definitely different.

CO: It’s so different. I think we’re still really structured, but I think there’s an element of fun that’s been introduced that we didn’t have when we were freshmen. I also think that we’re all a lot closer than we’ve ever been, instead of just groups of two or three people being close.

LJ: It’s also strange because we’re in leadership roles, which I think changes the team dynamics for me as an individual. I never had the leadership responsibilities we do now.

How do you think the way you take on those leadership roles affects the team dynamic?

CO: I would say that we’re different captains than we’ve ever had on the volleyball team. We’ve always had captains who have told us what to do, and I know from my personal point of view I’ve tried to view captainship as directing a group to make good decisions and us all holding everyone responsible instead of the two of us being babysitters.

What is your favorite thing about volleyball?

LJ: I like how quick it is. You have the ball for a split second, and most of the game is preparing to have the ball or moving around in anticipation of what the ball is doing. When you do get the ball, you have a split second to do something wonderful with it.

CO: It’s funny, when people come to watch volleyball they talk about the ball, but we spend most of practice talking about what to do when the ball is nowhere near you. I think my favorite part is that it’s indoors. I played soccer for one year and I hated it. I also hate running back and forth up a field. I also like that [volleyball isn’t] a contact sport, because I think people trying to mess with you when you’re trying to do something is really not how I want to play a sport.

Volleyball isn’t a contact sport, but you make a lot of contact with the floor. How do you prevent injury?

LJ: There are some injuries you can’t prevent, like I have stress fractures in my back from just jumping. Which is, like, really silly.

CO: You get bruises from hitting the floor, but you do it so much that you learn how to do it in a way where you don’t hurt yourself, and it just looks way worse than it feels.

LJ: It makes a terrible noise.

CO: When you’re in a game situation, the adrenaline gets you through.

Is the tumbling supposed to help prevent injury also?

LJ: You’re supposed to minimize the amount of time the ball has between the ground and you.

CO: You can only shuffle so far to the ball, so with that last lunge, it gets you to the ball faster. The roll is just a really quick way of getting up and minimizing hurting yourself. It’s really fun.

What do the hand symbols that you put up before each serve mean?

LJ: Usually the middle blocker, someone in the front row, is signifying whether there are three hitters or two hitters on the other side. If there are two hitters that means the center’s front row so the center dumps. It’s just to let the defense know where to be and what to prepare for before every play.

CO: So when there are three hitters, the center is back row and can’t jump and throw the ball over the net. Also, teams like to compete [to see] who’s louder and who’s being more obnoxious with how many words they’re saying. So it’s useful information and at the same time it’s like, psyche, I’m better than you. I know exactly what you’re doing.

LJ: Sometimes you might call other players, like “I have 17, I’m blocking 17;” “you have four, you’re blocking four.”

What is the dance you do before each game?

CO: [Laughs.] The wobble is from Chicago, I think. I did it a lot this summer, so I put it on the warm-up CD. You should YouTube it. I didn’t think people would like it, but —

LJ: It gets us pumped up.

Do you have any other pre-game rituals?

CO: Volleyball is so superstitious, now that I think about it.

LJ: When we’re all on the line, we high-five each other in a certain order down the line and then back up the line.

CO: We do a pump-up cheer. When we’re at home, we run out of the locker room we jump and touch the rafters.

What’s been your favorite volleyball moment?

CO: [Laughs.] I know exactly what my favorite moment is. Well, I have two. The first one is last year when we went to DePauw and we [were staying] in a corporate office building that got converted into a hotel. The night we got there it was super late and I was running down the hallway knocking on everyone’s doors. Everyone was all freaked out because they thought it was haunted. And the other one is when, just recently, we lost a game, and Laura gets really pumped up on her stats, and it makes her play really well. We were on the bus home and she goes to Brian [Ambrose], our assistant coach, [and says] “Brian, what were my stats?” [Head Coach] Erica [Rau] goes, “Doesn’t matter!” We all thought she was joking and then we realized she wasn’t. Then I found this great meme online that was something like, “when you think Coach is joking and they’re not,” with this baby making this face —

LJ: And that was my face. So embarrassing. My favorite is probably when we took a set off Wittenberg our freshman year. Wittenberg is the national champion for D-III volleyball, always in the top five, and last year they won [the championships]. [Winning that set] was a huge accomplishment.