There are a few things that stand out right away about Jenna Lerg. The most glaring is she wears a different colored shirt. She also is much smaller than her five Michigan teammates on the floor as they volley, serve and spike their way to a convincing win on Saturday.
A junior from Farmington Hills, Lerg has helped the Michigan volleyball team get off to an impressive start to the 2017 season. And it’s clear that Lerg not only looks good in white but that she is quite comfortable as the Wolverines’ libero.
“I get to see what’s open on the other side for our hitters,” said Lerg on Saturday after the 16th ranked Wolverines knocked off New Hampshire in the Michigan Invitational. “I get to pretty much control our serve-receive and see where things are. So it’s almost like I’m the quarterback of the defense and serve-receive.”
She has “quarterbacked” the Wolverines to a 5-1 start as U-M dominated play during their two-day tournament in Ann Arbor this past weekend winning all three matches and dropping just one set in the process.
A libero is a player specialized in defensive skills who wears a contrasting jersey color from her teammates. Lerg was wearing white on Saturday while the rest of her teammates donned yellow jerseys.
Libero’s also cannot block or attack the ball when it is entirely above net height. When the ball is not in play, the libero can replace any back-row player, without prior notice to the officials.
Lerg was Academic All-Big Ten last year and led the Wolverines in digs in all but two matches as a sophomore. She recorded double-digit digs in all but five contests and recorded a career-high 39 digs against Pitt (Sep. 10), tying for third all-time at Michigan for digs in a single match.
U-M head coach Mark Rosen has a great deal of confidence in his still-improving libero who was named the Michigan Tournament’s MVP this weekend after averaging 4.7 digs per set and totaling double-digit digs in every contest.
“She is so good at what she does and a lot of it goes unnoticed because she’s not super flashy,” said Rosen, now in his 19th season at U-M and the winningest coach in program history. “She puts herself in the right spot over and over again because she can see the game so well as it’s developing. Sometimes you see players diving all over the floor making these crazy plays but with Jenna she is in the right spot so she doesn’t have to do that. Her ability to see the play developing and get to the right spot is what makes her so good.”
Rosen would like to see Lerg become a little more vocal on the floor and the junior is slowly starting to raise her voice.
“She is starting to take a lot more control on the court and communicating more with her teammates and setting up our defense and our serve-receive,” Rosen said. “She has a pretty quiet personality but we want her to take more control and she’s doing a really good job of it.”
Lerg has been doing a “pretty good job of it” since her rookie season when she took over the very important libero position. She appeared in 32 of Michigan’s 33 total matches and made seven starts as libero and 13 as a defensive specialist as a freshman. She also tallied a career-high 30 digs in an NCAA Tournament second round loss to 14-seed UCLA, breaking a school record for digs in a single NCAA match.
“I came in (as a freshman) and my sister was a senior and another libero was a senior so I learned a lot from them,” said Lerg, whose sister Lindsey played volleyball at Michigan from 2012-2015. “We were all really competitive and by the end of the season I took over the libero role. They were always giving me feedback and my teammates were supportive because it’s not easy being a freshman and being on the floor for six rotations. That was exciting.”
While Lerg doesn’t always stand out from the stands she is certainly appreciated and applauded by her teammates.
“She’s great,” said Carly Skjodt, a standout junior outside hitter on the Wolverines. “She just reads the court so well and her volleyball IQ is incredible. Just knowing that she is behind me when I’m swinging is comforting because I know she will always have my back. She has all aspects of the game down so it’s really nice playing next to her.”
During her time at Farmington Hills Mercy, Lerg was an MHSAA All-State First Team selection her senior season (2015) and a two-time MSHAA All-Region selection.
“I played outside hitter at Mercy and all positions and that helped me see the court well and see what shots other players are hitting,” said Lerg who played for Legacy Volleyball Club (2011-15) and was named MVP and All-American at the AAU Nationals at the 16 open and to the USA Volleyball All-Tournament team at the 17 open. “It really heightened my game because I can read the hitters rather than react to them.”
Lerg and the Wolverines have “heightened” their game since opening up the 2017 season on the West Coast with a couple tough matches in Southern California.
“We have improved a lot since our first tournament,” Lerg said. “Going forward we need to smooth out some kinks that other teams are picking up on and scoring points with and making sure that each compartment of our game is just as strong as the next. We need to be consistent in our serving, blocking and defense and focus on playing as a team.”
The “quarterback” hopes to help lead the Wolverines to a big season in 2017.
“Our goal is to win as many games as we can in the Big Ten, which I believe is the best volleyball conference in the country,” she said. “Winning those games will help us develop as a team.
“We made it to the Sweet 16 last year which was a huge accomplishment but we want to go farther and hopefully win a National Championship.”