Working for the future


Setter Jenna Smits wears her knee brace for precautionary measures. Smits had two ACL reconstructive surgeries in high school. – Submitted

Story by Austin Mai, Staff Writer

It was the first conference matchup of the season for the Green Bay Preble High School 2010-11 girls’ volleyball team, and senior Jenna Smits was excited to play for a conference lead.

Less than a year after being named all-conference and all-area players of the year, Smits began warming up on the court and made her way to the hitting line. Without knowing there was water on the court, Smits jumped up the net and when she landed, her foot slipped on the water and her leg caved beneath her.

She felt immediate pain and crawled underneath the net, unsure how to react or what to do next.

“My dad told me to get up,” Smits said. “I couldn’t. He had to carry me off of the court.”

With just one bad landing, Smits tore her ACL.

“I had heard a pop,” Smits said. “My knee was starting to look bigger, but my hamstring was so tight the trainers couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong.”

In the same moment, her time starting for Preble was over.


Smits had ACL reconstruction surgery in September 2010 and began working toward her return to the court.

“I wanted to rejoin my team so badly,” Smits said. “I knew if I pushed the limits there was a real chance I could ruin all of the work I’d put toward my rehab so I had to sit and watch.”

She stayed involved with the team, attending every practice, match and tournament the team had.

Smits’ father and Preble high school volleyball assistant coach Rod Smits said her involvement with her replacement at setter was crucial.

“Jenna would work with her in drills,” Rod Smits said. “When we would play another team, she would help her out as far as what Jenna saw out on the court or areas where she could better the ball.

He said she transitioned into an assistant coach role and the team appreciated her presence, which was made clear on Senior Night.

“The head coach had decided he was going to have her serve to start the game,” Rod Smits said. “He had talked to the referees and the other coach and said she’s going to be on the court, she’s not going to move other than to serve the ball, they’ll play that point out and she’ll continue serving until we lose that volley.”

“That was special for her,” Rod Smits said. “It was a great surprise.”

The following March, Jenna Smits was in a return to sport program and jumping boxes months later when the unexpected happened.

“She heard a pop,” Rod Smits said. “She was pretty nervous.”

She got an MRI and the doctor told us, besides the torn meniscus from jumping boxes, one end of the surgically repaired ACL appeared to be fraying, Rod Smits said. “They couldn’t be sure until they had Jenna in surgery whether the ligament would need a second surgery.”

Jenna Smits had surgery in March 2011 to repair the meniscus and indeed, the ACL was torn again.

“It was a very emotional time,” Rod Smits said. “She felt her knee underneath the surgical gown and felt the brace on her leg again. It was just another step back to her.”

He said she shed a few tears in the recovery but after that, it was on to recovery.

Her second time through the return to sport program she worked with a specialized personal trainer who tried to fix her jumping.

The trainer videotaped her taking off and landing and focused on the alignment of her hips, knees and ankles to make sure they were all in line, Rod Smits said. “When he initially did this, you could see where her hips moved out to one side on the landing and he said he could correct it through exercise and strength and conditioning.”

She continued to work to make her way back to playing and after a year was able to take her brace off, now as a part of the UW-Eau Claire volleyball team.


Finding a program

Jenna Smits had been receiving interest from various NCAA Division I, II and III volleyball programs, including Marquette University.

Before her senior year in high school, Jenna played with the Fox Cities Elite volleyball club and reached the USA Volleyball championship game before losing to a team from Gainesville (Fla.).

Her time with the FC Elite club team created game-film which she would end up needing to share with college volleyball programs after the injury.

Eau Claire volleyball head coach Kim Wudi represented one of the programs that ended up receiving film and she said it showed a very dynamic and competitive player.

“You could see it in the film,” Wudi said. “She was always trying to make a play.”

The Blugolds were in need of a setter and Jenna Smits was beginning to look like a better fit with every look at the film and conversation with the Smits family.

“We started speaking to Jenna in October 2010,” Wudi said. “It’s always been important to us to make sure our recruits are not only a good fit athletically, but also meets our academic standards.”

Rod Smits said his daughter’s first trip to Eau Claire’s campus was all it took to have her seriously consider attending.

“We were preparing to visit Winona State University (Minn.), and I asked if she’d be interested in stopping in Eau Claire,” Rod Smits said. “We contacted Kim and tried to set a time we could meet. Jenna met the staff and some of the players, but after seeing the campus and leaving, all she did was talk about Eau Claire on the way to Winona.”

He said once in Winona, Jenna asked if they could go to River Falls and watch the Blugolds play.

Jenna Smits said Eau Claire seemed like the right fit and the Kinesiology program was one she wanted to be part of.

After Jenna Smits was accepted to Eau Claire, she medical grey-shirted her freshman year and watched as her team had a winning season.

“I learned a lot watching the team my freshman year,” Jenna Smits said. “There were a lot of strong players and the way they led was great to watch.”

Wudi said she didn’t end up seeing Jenna Smits actually play with no restrictions until about two years after the initial ligament tear.

“It was great,” Wudi said. “She’s developed into a strong player on the court at setter as well as off the court with the way she works in practices and the offseason.”

Wudi said she believes Jenna Smits, who has one year of eligibility left, has her best volleyball ahead of her.

“It’s no criticism,” Wudi said. “I think she agrees and it’s something that has motivated her to return next season.”