Oct. 19, 2012

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — On Jan. 26, the day he was hired as head volleyball coach at UVa, longtime Penn State assistant Dennis Hohenshelt emailed the members of his new team, inviting them to telephone him that night if they wanted to talk about the program’s future. Among those who called was Tori Janowski.

“I wanted to let him know that we were all super-excited for him and to welcome him,” Janowski, now a sophomore, recalled Friday.

She did not have to introduce herself to Hohenshelt. Or vice versa.

“I’ve known Tori probably since she was 13 years old,” Hohenshelt said Thursday, “because she used to come up to camps at Penn State all the time. So I’d see her every summer.”

Janowski said: “It was my favorite camp. I would probably still be going to it if I could.”

Also familiar with Hohenshelt was UVa middle hitter Mallory Woolridge, a former Penn State recruiting target. During Virginia’s search for a successor to Lee Maes, who resigned after the 2011 season, Janowski said, she and Woolridge had wondered if Hohenshelt might be a candidate. But he was not among the coaches they saw mentioned when they went on-line and read volleyball blogs. And so the news of Hohenshelt’s hiring surprised them.

“We had no idea,” Janowski said.

In Maes’ four seasons as head coach, the Wahoos finished 53-70 overall and 28-52 in ACC play. On the surface, they have not been transformed in their first season under Hohenshelt — the `Hoos are 6-14 overall and 0-9 in the conference — but “everything’s completely different,” Janowski said. “There’s a different culture in the gym completely.

“Everything is more positive. Last year we were kind of going through the motions. We didn’t really have a purpose. This year our purpose is to get better with every practice and every game.”

Virginia snapped an eight-match losing streak Tuesday night with a 3-2 victory over JMU in Harrisonburg. The Cavaliers are back home this weekend to take on ACC rivals Duke (7 p.m. Friday) and Wake Forest (7 p.m. Saturday) at Memorial Gymnasium.

In its two most recent ACC matches, UVa lost 3-2 to North Carolina and 3-1 to NC State, both at Mem Gym.

“I thought we were going to break through last weekend — in both matches,” said Janowski, Virginia’s No. 1 setter. “I think it could definitely happen this weekend.”

A graduate of Flint Hill School in Fairfax County, Janowski spent her freshman and sophomore years at Potomac Falls High in her hometown of Sterling, in Loudoun County.

Janowski also played soccer as a girl, but volleyball has always been her favorite sport. She learned the game from her father, Michael Janowski, who was an elite player in his native Poland before moving to the United States.

Her father coached Janowski for most of her childhood, in the Northern Virginia Volleyball Association, and she proved to be an exceptional talent.

As a senior, she led Flint Hill to a 33-0 record, and in each of her final two high school seasons she was The Washington Post’s choice as player of the year in the D.C. area.

So, why UVa? Why not choose a college with a more successful volleyball program?

Academics played a huge role in her decision to attend the University, said Janowski, who is likely to major in foreign affairs and might minor in bioethics. But they weren’t the only reason.

“I wanted to pick a program where I could be an impact player and help change the program,” said Janowski, who lives with teammate Abbey Welborn and field hockey players Rachel Sumfest and Jessica White.

As a freshman, Janowski started 13 matches. She finished the season with 174 kills and 113 digs, and Hohenshelt knew Janowski would be a integral part of his rebuilding project.

“She’s a great kid, a great athlete,” Hohenshelt said. “She’s far and away the best athlete on the team.”

He wasn’t sure, however, where to play Janowski. “Tori’s just a very good volleyball player,” Hohenshelt said, “and the problem is, she’s probably our best outside attacker, and she’s our best setter.”

Until early this month, Janowski played two positions during matches, right-side hitter and setter, but “I just didn’t think there was a real good flow to our offense,” Hohenshelt said, “and the kids could never get in a real good rhythm. And so I might be an idiot, but I took the kid that was hitting the best and said, `Hey, you’re going to set full time.’

“She statistically was our best hitter, hitting on the right side of the court. But I just thought for the overall good of the team, I needed her making all the second contacts, instead of the third contacts. And there’s just a lot better flow to the game now.”

Early in the season, Hohenshelt said, UVa’s first-year hitters “weren’t really ready to carry a big offensive load. The freshmen have gotten a lot better the last three weeks, and we just determined, OK, now let’s try to get Tori be a full-time setter.”

That was was fine with Janowski. “I’ve always wanted to be a setter,” she said, “but every team I’ve been on needed me to hit.”

Setters, she said with a smile, are “kind of the brains of the team, the quarterbacks. They do all the mental work of the game, which is something I’m still learning.”

Hohenshelt said he’s not sure which position Janowski will play next season. She’s versatile and talented enough to contribute in several roles. Rest assured, though, Janowski will be on the court somewhere.

“Has to be,” Hohenshelt said. “She’s one of our better players.”

As a college coach, Hohenshelt never has been part of a team that finished with a losing record. That streak may well end this fall, but he remains upbeat.

“I’m fine. The kids are fine,” Hohenshelt said. “We’re getting better. Every day the kids come to the gym, and they’re ready to practice and get better at things.

“Everyone asks me if I’m OK, and I’m great. Do I want wins? Yeah. Am I happy about not having a win in this conference? No. But it’s what it is, and I understand that it’s not going to be easy.”

Only one senior, middle blocker Jessica O’Shoney, and one junior, libero Emily Rottman, are playing regularly for UVa as the final month of the regular season approaches. (Another junior, Woolridge, is redshirting because of an injury.)

“It’s a young group, and so they make young-kid mistakes, and the only way we know how to fix those is by making them play,” Hohenshelt said. “And that was part of moving Tori and letting her set all the time: Look, we’re going to play the young kids. We’re going to let `em learn on the go, because in the end, it’s going to pay dividends. You go to practice now, and all of the sudden things that three weeks ago they didn’t have any clue about, it’s like” — he snapped his fingers — “they know what’s going on.”

Hohenshelt said he’s confident there are “some wins out there for us” in UVa’s remaining matches this fall. Whatever happens, though, his first “group has laid a great groundwork for future teams, in how they work, in their never-give-up attitude,” he said.

“Will I miss this group of fourth-years? Yeah, because they’ve given me everything they have, and I feel bad for them, because I want to give them some wins. But they’re sticking by it. They’re 100-percent in.”

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