The Iowa State Cyclone coaches have got to be kicking themselves for ever letting Jen Malcom leave the state in the first place.
After spending two years playing with Syracuse University in New York, the Schaller native is back home with the Cyclones, happy and thriving.
Malcom was a standout for the Schaller Wildcats as she lettered all four years in basketball, softball, track, and volleyball. She was recognized as an all-state selection in volleyball her junior and senior seasons, and Syracuse took notice.
In her first season, she led Syracuse in all blocking categories and was twice awarded with Big East Conference Rookie of the Week honors.
Her sophomore campaign saw Malcom finish fifth in the Big East in blocks as she topped her team again. She was also presented with the Courage Award after the season. Even with the success and accolades, Malcom wasn't content out east and knew a change was needed.
"I just wasn't happy with the program out there anymore," she said. "Part of it was just to get back to Iowa, to have my parents see a lot more games. They didn't really get the chance to get out there a lot. Iowa State is a lot bigger university. I liked the small class sizes at Syracuse compared to the big lectures that they have here, but either way I knew I was going to receive a great education. I absolutely loved getting back here."
Malcom seemed much more pleased with how Iowa State ran its volleyball program and how accessible the coaches are for their players.
"I have a better relationship with our coaches here," she said. "You can always go and talk and joke around with them. Out in Syracuse it was kind of different. The girls and the environment were great, but our coach wasn't too outgoing. He really didn't talk a lot. I think this is a much better environment for me here."
N.C.A.A. regulations stipulate that a transfer must sit out of athletics for a full academic year after transfering to a different school. So, the kinesiology major spent the 2006 season practicing and learning.
When she got back on the court last season, she definitely made an impression early on.
"She is very quick," said her head coach Christy Johnson. "She hits a quick set in front of the setter as fast as anyone I have coached. In order to stop Jen you have to commit on her, she is just that fast."
In her first season with Iowa State, Malcom played in all 33 matches and finished tops in blocks for the Cyclones as they were ninth in the country in blocks per game. She finished fourth on the Big 12 charts. She was also third on the Cyclones in kills and led all attackers in hitting percentage.
"It was a great first season back," the middle blocker said. "I really think I helped out. Just being close to home and having a lot of family and friends come see me really motivated me. It was a great feeling to have them there cheering for me again."
Malcom's stout defense and efficient attacking contributed greatly to a Cyclone team that made just its second appearance ever in the NCAA tournament. The first came the year prior.
Iowa State's cinderella run advanced the Cyclones to the sweet sixteen before falling to #6 California. It was the farthest any Iowa State team had ever advanced in the sport.
The Cyclones ended the season rated #17, their first ever national ranking. Their off-season recruits were ranked 25th in the nation.
"It was the first time a Cyclone team has made it to the sweet sixteen," stated Malcom. "So, it was a really big step for us. We had a lot of our fans follow us up to Madison. It made it that much more exciting. It was such a great atmosphere."
The Cyclones graduated some excellent players, including two-time All-Big 12 first teamer Erin Boeve, but Malcom is confident about this year's squad.
"I have really high hopes for us this year," she said. "We lost three really great players that we need to fill in for. In the spring we showed what we could potentially be as a team. We have five freshman that could step in and play about anywhere for us. There's going to be some good competition. There will be some challenging fights for positions, but I think we'll be a more competitive team this season because of it. "
Malcom's personal goals look to see her build on some consistent numbers.
"I want to be in the top five for blocking in the Big 12 again," she stated. "I was our most efficient hitter last season, and I want to do that again as well. Just keep learning and improving."
Malcom knows she has some big shoes to fill, but she seems ready and willing for the task this fall.
"As a senior, I need to step up and be a leader if we're going to get back to where we were last year," she said. "I don't think another sweet sixteen run is out of the question. That's what I'm hoping for now, hopefully farther than last year. It would be a great senior season for me. We're gonna work hard and keep pushing every day in practice. We never quit."
Malcom and the resilient Cyclones kick off the 2008 season at the Panther Invitational tournament Friday August 29th against Illinois State in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.