Freshman outside and right side hitter Jessica Sloan skies for a put away Sept. 5 against the University of Nebraska. The Flyers lost in straight sets to the No. 12 ranked team in the nation. Ian Moran/Chief Photographer
By: Keith Raad – Asst. Sports Editor
She had never heard of the University of Dayton. She knew neither the school history nor its volleyball accolades.
It’s hard to know these things when you never turn on the television to watch basketball, football, or even volleyball. The only thing freshman outside and right side hitter Jessica Sloan would listen to was the Golf Channel while she did her homework.
Her strong connection to sports comes from a love of playing them. It’s difficult categorize her attitude toward watching them on television.
“When I [watch sports], I get really ‘antsy’ and want to be playing that sport,” Sloan said. “So I don’t really follow any. If a person or team isn’t doing well, I want to go in and play. I feel so bad when others are doing poorly. I freak out for them. I don’t really know where that comes from.”
Her humility is charming. Sloan arrives to Dayton’s volleyball team with a state-championship laden resume, but the title of No. 1 ranked outside hitter in the state of Georgia. Sloan hit a .421 percentage her senior year. The two-year high school captain garnered a career hitting percentage of .406 over the four years.
For the Marietta, Georgia native, volleyball has become second-nature ever since she discovered air-conditioning. Sloan ditched the outdoor sports like softball, soccer, and tennis for the cool air and the tight, concentrated energy, she said.
“The whole mixture of energy on the court just hypes me up,” she said. “There are so many different skills that you have to be good at. There’s so much involved and it’s a team sport. I really like that aspect of it. It’s not like hitting a baseball. It’s high energy, fast-paced, and there are a lot of areas to succeed in.”
As a starter for UD’s team in her freshman season, Sloan keeps her emotions at bay through her mature approach.
“So many people tell me that I look like I have no emotion on the court,” Sloan said. “I try to stay level-headed so that the opposing team doesn’t see me happy or sad – the perfect poker face.”
Her first taste of Division I volleyball came against Bowling Green University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Middle Tennessee State University when UD opened their season at the Hampton Inn Invitational Aug. 29-30. Her debut was a little frustrating, she said. Sloan had a negative hitting percentage against Bowling Green and Pitt.
“I was super frustrated,” Sloan said. “I’m still transitioning. But coach talked to me about different shots. I have a tendency to hit low. I can jump high, but it doesn’t really help me if my hand doesn’t get that high. I just have to focus on keeping my hand high.”
It’s a one of many skills to be perfected as an all-around player, but Sloan likes to take each one step-by-step.
“I tried so hard to focus on that [against Middle Tennessee] and tried to hit it hard,” Sloan said. “[Coach] Tim [Horsmon] keeps telling me to hit it harder and harder because the shot placement doesn’t work like it did in high school.”
For someone rated so high and dressed with so many accolades in high school, Sloan said she doesn’t focus on the numbers.
“One of my coaches told me, ‘one bad day does not make you a bad player,’ so I try to keep that in mind,” Sloan said. “It’s proof that they still support me when I’m not doing well. It keeps me confident and to not fall apart after one mistake.”
The coaches sitting on the sidelines have had the perfect style for Sloan’s personality.
“I love the whole mix of them,” Sloan said. “I think it’s perfect. I’ve never had such a good combination before.”
Horsmon takes a reserved role as a head coach. Instead of standing and shouting during each and every point, he sits during most of the match, and picks his spots.
“It’s kind of nice he gives us the reins to do what we want,” said Sloan. “I feel so much more mature than high school or club because if we mess up, we can mess up aggressively. Him just sitting down and letting us play allows us to make mistakes without getting completely devastated.”
It’s the maturity and confidence to deal with struggles that make Sloan very capable – and dangerous, on the court.
“There are players that, when they miss a hit, are scary to be around. I just try to not play like that. I try to play where people want to be around me. If I miss a hit, I think about what I can do the next time,” Sloan said.
After weekend where the team went 2-1 Sept. 5-6, UD faces the University of Toledo, Cleveland State, and the Naval Academy as part of the Cleveland State Tournament Sept. 12-13.
UD takes a 4-2 record to the tournament in Cleveland and travels to Jacksonville, Florida for the North Florida Invitational Sept. 19-20. Atlantic-10 play begins Friday, Sept. 26 at the University of Duquesne.