Jennifer Mendenhall conducts a conditioning drill with Crater High players on Tuesday in Central Point. - Kayla Young

Golden Opportunity

Jennifer Mendenhall always figured she would be a softball pitching coach if she ever returned to the high school level, but the opportunity to switch gears at Crater High was simply too good to pass up.

Fortunately for Mendenhall, versatility has never been an issue. She earned a Division I scholarship out of high school to play softball at the University of New Mexico, suffered an arm injury and didn't miss a beat in moving over to the volleyball court for Hawaii Hilo.

It's that supreme athleticism and competitive drive that the Comets hope to draw from this fall when the 24-year-old Mendenhall takes over a volleyball program that went winless last year in its first season at the Class 6A level.

To spur along the process, Mendenhall has been busy putting her troops through the paces since landing the varsity position two weeks ago.

"I'm excited," she said of beginning her first season as a head coach. "These girls are hard workers and very coachable, which is wonderful. They've already improved a lot with the conditioning and all the basic drills we're doing right now."

Mendenhall is hard at work coordinating matters twice per week on the sand volleyball courts at Twin Creeks Park in Central Point. The Comets also plan on attending the Southern Oregon University camp, joining Ashland's players for an outdoor camp July 18-20 at Garfield Park and hosting their own camp for grades 5-7.

"I've learned so much about the sport coaching it so it's going to help them in their season helping those little girls," said Mendenhall.

Before her girls take that next step, however, Mendenhall admits there is plenty to be done to round their own net game into form. The willingness is there, said the coach, it's just a lack of fundamentals and terminology that has slowed their progress.

"What we're really focusing on is just getting the fundamentals down," said Mendenhall. "It's definitely better than what they were before and we're just trying to get their confidence up because they're better than what they think they are and what they showed last year."

To speed up the learning curve, Mendenhall has had to roll up her sleeves and work right alongside her players.

"It's a lot of hands-on stuff right now," she said.

That goes for the coach as well. Being new to the coaching circuit, as well as new to the changes in the conference landscape since she graduated from South Medford High in 2005, has kept Mendenhall on her toes and seeking help from as many resources as possible.

From Crater Athletic Director Jeff Johnson to South Medford Athletic Director Dennis Murphy and her former volleyball coaches in Adam Wagman and SOU's Josh Rohlfing, Mendenhall hasn't hesitated to seek assistance.

"It's nice to be able to go back to old coaches and say, 'I've got a question, how do you do this?'" said Mendenhall.

Her biggest area of concern?

"I'm a little nervous with not necessarily the coaching aspect of it but with all the paperwork," she admitted. "That's what's making me nervous, making sure I get all the paperwork in and done right."

Mendenhall has been busy studying all the ins and outs of volleyball, making sure she's caught up with any rules changes at the high school level. It's all been a work in progress since she is also balancing a position as a production assistant for NBC here in Medford with classes at SOU as she finishes up her degree in sports psychology.

"I've definitely been busy," she added with a laugh.

Not so busy, however, to miss the good-natured jabs that come her way as she prepares a Crater team to eventually square off against her alma mater.

"I've gotten some jokes about that, a lot of jokes," she said. "I'll probably be pretty nervous before that first South game."

Until then, she's happy to be working toward a turnaround for the Crater program. Mendenhall coached the Comets during the club season from January to March, and it was that experience that led her to apply for the open position in the spring.

"The good thing right now is Crater is a sleeper team and we can use that to our advantage," she said. "As long as we can get in good shape and chip away at the other teams, we'll get where we want to be."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or email Follow him @Kris_Henry

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