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Orf imagines life without mentor Jenna Rosenthal

Photo by Jordan Johnson

Photo by Jordan Johnson

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As a middle blocker for Marquette women’s volleyball, it might be easy to overlook sophomore Elizabeth Orf when she’s playing the same position as fifth-year senior and two-time All-BIG EAST First Team honoree Jenna Rosenthal.

However, Rosenthal has been preparing Orf to take over that position once she graduates in December.

“I’ve been really proud to see Elizabeth work really hard in practice every day to get better technically and become more confident in herself and grow in her abilities,” Rosenthal said. “She’s always so willing to learn and (is) open to new ideas and new things. I just try to help restate some things the coaches say in a different way.”

Orf was pegged from her freshman year starting at middle blocker. Last season Orf had 138 kills and hit 1.21 kills per set. This season she already has 107 kills, hitting 1.43 kills per set with four regular season games remaining. She is also one of five players and plays in every set.

Head coach Ryan Theis attributes Orf’s improvement to the way Rosenthal has taken Orf under her wing.

“Jenna did a really good job throughout (Elizabeth’s) first year talking to her about what’s going on on the other side of the net, if they have breaks or when they’re doing a footwork pattern,” Theis said. “(Jenna’s) done a good job of helping explain (to Elizabeth) what we mean by things and where she should be in certain situations.”

At Villa Duchesne High School, Orf was a four-year letter winner and currently holds the school’s record with 1,100 career kills. In her final two seasons, she tallied 545 digs and as a junior she earned all-state, all-region, all-district and all-conference honors.

Orf said being a middle blocker is much different from most other positions. Rosenthal is particularly helpful for Orf because she understands the demands of “being a middle.”

“Jenna has given me someone to lean on in some way,” Orf said. “She knows what I’m going through, just the struggles of our position. Our position’s pretty unique comparable to the other ones. I don’t know if the other positions can relate as much.”

“A lot of stuff that the middle does helps set up the rest of the defense or helps the offense by playing a decoy,” Rosenthal said.

Due to Rosenthal’s guidance, Orf has drastically improved her “block moves,” which Theis said his staff works on with Orf on a daily basis.

“When she came in as a freshman, her percentage of making the right move was maybe 50-50,” Theis said. “Now, over the course of the year, 95 percent of the time she’s making the right move and getting in the right spots.”

“Blocking-wise I’ve grown a lot that way,” Orf said. “The coaches teach some different blocking movements than I previously had learned just to make you quicker at the net. I’ve gotten a lot quicker at the net laterally.”

With Rosenthal, Anna Haak and Abby Julian graduating and four juniors on the roster, Theis said he expects his sophomores to take on a leadership role during the remaining weeks of this season.

“(The sophomore) class in general is a good group of kids and Elizabeth is one of their spokespeople,” Theis said. “She’s vocal and that’s very helpful. We always need underclassmen contributing because at some point they’re going to be upperclassmen.”

Despite having different personalities, Orf said the two have become extremely close. One of their personality similarities includes their taste in music.

“Jenna and I have a lot of fun together,” Orf said. “I’m more extroverted and goofy and funny joking around. … We mesh well together and she really helps me.”

Orf said she can always count on Rosenthal if she has a question about a play.

“She’s just really knowledgeable and she has a lot of experience under her belt,” Orf said. “She’ll have words of wisdom for me, or we just laugh about something. … Those are the things I’m going to miss the most about Jenna.”

Orf said the team frequently wonders what they will be like next season.

“(I) just think about how weird it will be without them because they’re such a part of my life every single day,” Orf said. “It’ll be weird not having (Rosenthal) around, but we’re excited for the future, too.”

As volleyball without Rosenthal looms closer, Theis said he wants to see Orf improve offensively, although he does not expect Orf to single-handedly replace Rosenthal.

“When Jenna graduates, that doesn’t automatically mean Elizabeth has to go from two (points) to four,” Theis said. “We will need points out of the middle and we will lose some of that when Jenna leaves.”

Theis said he wants Orf to be an all-conference middle blocker. Meanwhile, Rosenthal said it is hard to know what kind of player Orf will be a year from now, but said she remains confident Orf will be a force to be reckoned with.

“I know that Elizabeth is a conscientious player that is working her hardest every day and wants the best for this team,” Rosenthal said. “She’s already made her presence known in the past two seasons, and that’ll only continue as we move forward.”

Orf said she noticed that confidence as well with about a month left of playing with Rosenthal.

“I really think Jenna believes I can step up into that role,” Orf said. “She wants the team to do well even after she’s gone, kind of carry on a legacy, just to keep doing what she has implemented as a leader over the past couple years. I know she has some pretty big shoes to fill, but I hope I can do that.”

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