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The Perfect Solution

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Volleyball player Jennifer Kessy has always been a perfectionist.

As a three-time All-Pacific 10 selection and 1998 All-American candidate, Kessy, a senior outside hitter for USC, has been nearly flawless in her pursuit of excellence.

“I’m high-strung. I’m a competitor,” said Kessy, who graduated from Dana Hills High. “I want to win and get better, and that’s the bottom line.”

So far this season, Kessy leads the Trojans in kills (391) and digs (224) and is on pace to pass four-time All-American Tracy Clark to become the school’s career kills leader. Kessy broke Clark’s single-match school record for kills with 38 last year against San Diego.

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Kessy has helped the 11th-ranked Trojans to a 15-4 record. Though her competitiveness is one of her biggest assets on the court, it can also be detrimental to her overall game.

USC Coach Lisa Love said Kessy’s biggest weakness is her tendency to be too hard on herself, letting a mistake affect her play.

“She has been known to let an error follow her for two or three points, and it would affect the team,” Love said.

Kessy, a co-captain for the Trojans, realizes her shortcoming and has worked to overcome it. “I used to dwell on mistakes, but I’ve grown up as a player,” she said. “Mike Voight has really helped me.”

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Voight is a doctoral student at USC and in his first year as performance enhancement consultant for the USC women’s volleyball team. He holds weekly team meetings and also offers individual counseling.

During the meetings, Voight encourages players to talk about issues affecting their games, practices, or anything else for that matter. Other teams at USC have similar consultants.

“The meetings revolve around team-building issues,” Voight said. “We want all of the players on the same page and achieving certain standards set by themselves and the team.”

Voight said Kessy has been thoroughly involved in the meetings, trying to share the responsibility and encouraging everyone to express their thoughts with no concern for negative ramifications.

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“She has learned so much more as to what it takes to be an effective leader,” Voight said.

“In the past, she didn’t know how big an impact she had. The meetings allowed her to hear some of the feedback, causing her to realize she can take some of the pressure off herself.”

Her teammates essentially told Kessy she was trying to do too much. “We have some great girls here and I know that anybody can step up for us at any time,” said Kessy, who said she has learned to depend more on her teammates.

Opponents have noticed the maturation of Kessy as well.

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Elisabeth Bachman, an outside hitter at UCLA, has played against Kessy for three years. “She’s always been a great player, but you can tell she’s grown,” Bachman said. “She’s completely in control now and makes very few mistakes.”

Kessy has steadily improved since her first time on the court at Dana Hills. Mike Hurlbut, who was her coach, saw Kessy’s potential right away and started her on the varsity team.

“She came in like gangbusters,” Hurlbut said. “I knew there were good things ahead. She was athletic and tall and she picked things up very quickly. She was a competitor.”

Kessy, who was the setter for Dana Hills, had played club volleyball for three years, but because she was involved with five different sports growing up, never took volleyball seriously before high school.

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As a junior and senior, she helped the Dolphins to consecutive South Coast League titles, including their first in 20 years. She was the South Coast League’s most valuable player and was a Times Orange County first-team selection as a senior.

As a freshman at USC, Kessy helped the Trojans beat UCLA for the first time in seven years. Last year’s team, which finished 21-5 and tied for second in the Pac-10 with Washington State, was the school’s best since women’s volleyball gained conference status in 1986.

Love is not making any predictions, but has taken notice of Kessy’s improvements, both on and off the court. “We came into her senior year with high expectations, and she has surpassed them,” Love said. “She has been a very steady performer, and her maturity and caring has helped make other players better.”

Kessy has come to realize not all facets of her game are going to be flawless. Credit Voight for teaching her the mental side of sports.

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“Voight has meant so much to me,” she said. “Everything he has done has resulted in something positive, and I realize that I don’t need to be perfect for us to succeed as a team.”


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