Many athletes have been playing sports for as long as they can remember. But, Loyola men’s volleyball senior middle blocker, 22-year-old Jeff Jendryk, has only been playing volleyball since he was 16 years old. Although playing for six years might seem like a relatively short time, Jendryk said that’s average for midwestern volleyball players.
Volleyball is something Jendryk said he’s passionate about, but he hasn’t been playing it the longest. Jendryk, a finance major from Wheaton, started playing basketball as soon he could dribble. During his first year of high school, he was faced with a difficult decision: His volleyball coach told him he had to choose between the basketball and volleyball.
Choosing volleyball wasn’t the wrong choice for Jendryk. Since beginning his career at Loyola, he’s won several awards, including being named to the All-American team three times — making him the first Loyola athlete to be named to the first or second All-American team three or more times.
“It is a great feeling [to be named to the All-American team],” Jendryk said. “I am just here to play to the best [of my] ability. Right now, as a team, we are playing really well, which is helping out my individual stuff.”
Coming to Loyola wasn’t a difficult decision for Jendryk; he said the school had everything he wanted. Along with being close to home, the team had a great coaching staff, great members and was a competitive program, which allowed him to grow.
During every game between the second and third sets, Jendryk’s dad throws him a quick snack from the stands. One would think an athlete would be eating a protein bar during a game. But, Jendryk receives a Snickers bar. Jendryk said he normally eats every three hours and the inspiration for his pregame snacks came from former teammate and Olympic medalist Thomas Jaeschke during his first year on the team.
Last summer, Jendryk got the chance to play with Jaeschke again. The two played together when Jendryk made his debut with the men’s national team when he was named to the 2017 Fédération Internationale de Volleyball U.S. World League Team.
“Last year was my first year playing with [the national team] over the summer and I was kind of like the young guy,” Jendryk said. “I was just kind of following them around and they were taking me under their wing. It was a great experience having all these guys teach me things that I can pick up on and now I try to translate that to tell my Loyola teammates…”
Playing on the national team isn’t something many players get to do, and head coach Mark Hulse said playing on the team has helped Jendryk mature as a player.
“He has become more conscious of what it is he is doing and what it is that makes him successful because you have to, because you can’t get away with the little inefficacies anymore at that level and it’s the highest level in the world,” Hulse said. “If you have some chinks in your armor you get exposed pretty quick by some of these guys he’s playing against.”
Junior libero Avery Aylsworth, who has been playing with Jendryk for three years, said being able to watch him during the 2015 NCAA championship game was cool and it’s been nice to watch him develop over the years.
“He has definitely stepped into a leadership role for sure,” Aylsworth said. “Some of the intangibles, I think, have improved a lot just from being a sophomore to a senior. I think that goes hand-and-hand with experience and playing with some older guys and playing with some new guys.”
Aylsworth began college as a first-year halfway across the country — not an easy feat. But, Aylsworth, who’s from San Jose, California, said having Jendryk there to help guide him through the first couple weeks made the transition easier. Without his leadership and guidance, Aylsworth said he would have been lost.
“So coming into the gym first day, there’s no excuses, they expect you to play at a high level every single time you step on the court. Every time you step in the weight room they expect excellence and perfection,” Aylsworth said. “It was really nice to have [Jendryk] take some of the [first-years] under his wing, just like letting them know ‘This is what is expected of you every single day, day in and day out.’”
Looking forward to his future volleyball career, Jendryk said he isn’t going to think about playing professionally or preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics until his college season is over. Hulse said the 6-foot-10-inch middle blocker has a lot to learn before the Olympics, but playing with the national team is the best thing for his career.
“I think where he has just matured a ton … [is] being a little bit more consistent that has been the biggest difference,” Hulse said. “Call it professionalism that he has kind of brought and developed.”
Jendryk and the No. 6-ranked Ramblers are scheduled to take on Ball State University March 22 in Gentile Arena.