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College volleyball: Schjenken impact at UMD has been ‘a long time coming’

A knee injury and COVID kept the Deer River product out of the lineup until now.

Hope Schjenken.jpg
Hope Schjenken of Deer River is finally having an impact in her fourth year at UMD, with 115 kills and 36 blocks.
Terry Norton / UMD Athletics
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DULUTH — Romano Gym was the location Saturday, but it could have been a park or another picnic place as it looked more like a Schjenken family reunion.

After ninth-ranked Minnesota Duluth fell 3-0 to top-ranked Wayne State in NSIC volleyball, nearly 30 family and friends gathered around UMD middle blocker Hope Schjenken to show their support.

“A good learning lesson,” Schjenken said.

Yes, UMD got thumped 25-20, 25-16, 25-15 in suffering its first loss of the season, but as they say, you learn more from the losses than the wins, more from the lows than the highs, and the Bulldogs will certainly learn from that one.

“Sometimes when you’re struggling and you get into that moment your mind goes cloudy and then the harder you try, the harder it becomes to succeed,” UMD coach Jim Boos said. “You’re just fighting yourself at that point in time, when it’s already hard enough to fight them. And the harder we tried, the harder it got.

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“It’s a good chance to reset and realize we’re a really good program that is doing really good things, and yet, the leap from here to there, that big final leap to get to the top of the pile, we still have work to do. We still have a ways to go.”

UMD (13-1 overall, 5-1 NSIC) will look to bounce back this weekend but it certainly doesn’t get much easier. The Bulldogs will be at seventh-ranked Southwest Minnesota State (13-1, 5-1) at 6 p.m. Friday and at Sioux Falls (9-4, 5-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday .

“That’s what we can take from the Wayne State loss, from the coaches to players, let’s get back to work,” Boos said. “Let’s fix some of the issues that we have and let’s get back to doing some of those things that we were doing well. It’s not going to get any easier for us. We know that. That’s the fun and challenging part of this stupid league.”

A stupid league, but a darn good league. So good, in fact, the Bulldogs went 18-11 and 10-10 in conference play last year and didn’t even make the NSIC tournament, much less the NCAA Division II playoffs, a rarity in Boos’ 20 seasons. In fact, UMD had never missed a conference tournament under Boos and only missed the NCAA playoffs one other time, in 2015, even though the Bulldogs went 23-8 overall and 15-5 in NSIC play that season.

“We definitely had some ups and downs last year,” Schjenken said. “This year we’ve just been a lot more consistent, but there’s always things we can work on.

“It’s been a great year. It’s great to be back on campus and have everything back to normal, with none of the COVID stuff. We’re able to just do what we do.”

Schjenken certainly understands the value of patience. Her arrival at UMD didn’t happen overnight.

The 2019 Deer River graduate was redshirted that fall. Then she had to sit through the 2020 season that was canceled by the COVID pandemic. Then she was set to have an impact last fall only to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee at a spring scrimmage in March of 2021, requiring surgery.

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“I tore my ACL running a slide route,” I knew right away that something had happened because it was extremely painful, but I had no idea it was a torn ACL. Right when I came off the court my trainer assumed it was an ACL by the feel of it. I was pretty devastated as it was towards the end of spring season and fall would be here soon. I was glad my trainer let me know her thoughts right away because when I got the MRI back I was already expecting that result.”

Now finally, she gets to play.

“It has been a long time coming,” Schjenken said. “It’s been an adjustment actually having a role out there on the court, and I’m learning a lot throughout this season! I’m super happy and blessed to be able to play this year and especially with such great teammates. I learned a lot while I was injured and it’s exciting now to take what I’ve learned off the court and use it on the court!”

The 5-foot-11 Schjenken apparently learned quite well. She is third on the Bulldogs with 36 blocks and has the ability to be explosive offensively, with 115 kills, or 2.35 per set. Her emergence has allowed the Bulldogs to move Samantha Paulsen over to the right side, where she, too, has had an impact with 137 kills, or 2.8 per set.

“It’s such a joy to have her back out there,” Boos said. “She’s such a dynamic athlete. She’s able to move along the net and back with one foot. She adds an element that we were missing last year and kind of harkens back to the days of Sarah Kelly or Abby Thor or Vicky Braegelmann, where you have someone who is going to fly off of one foot.

“You can really tell the difference she’s made. She’s worked really hard to get back on the floor, so it’s great to see her getting rewarded for that hard work.”

Schjenken wears the same brace over her right knee that UMD standout Cianna Selbitschka wears. Schjenken said the brace is precautionary. She is healthy but said the brace helps her rest easily.

“I like wearing it,” she said. “It helps me keep my peace of mind.”

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The brace certainly didn’t appear to bother her Saturday as Schjenken led the Bulldogs with nine kills against Wayne State and was incredibly efficient with a .353 hitting percentage on a day when the Bulldogs otherwise struggled against the unbeaten Wildcats (16-0).

Schjenken is listed as a senior, but in terms of eligibility, after everything she’s been through, she’s really a fourth-year freshman. She could be on a seven-year plan if she wants but nobody is getting too far ahead of themselves.

“Realistically, we’ll probably get this year and next year and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Boos said. “I’m just happy for her to be back out there.”

Schjenken is majoring in human resources management at UMD and plans on finishing that out next year. She also has a minor in healthcare management and coaching.

Based on Saturday, she certainly appears to be enjoying her time as a Bulldog. And one of the perks of being a Bulldog, when you’re from Deer River, is not being too far from home.

Schjenken always gets good family support but Saturday perhaps surpassed it as family and friends looked forward to seeing how the Bulldogs stacked up against the top-ranked Wildcats. While it didn’t go UMD’s way, the future for Schjenken and Co. is bright.

“It’s nice not playing too far from home,” Schjenken said. “Everyone was excited to come out and see us play.”

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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