Jen Cross: From NCAA Semi-Finalist to German League Champion

An Ontario native, Jen Cross has worked very hard to get to the top, and she is not looking back now. She began her career at the University of Michigan, were she helped the team to their first ever Final Four appearance. In an outstanding senior year, she lead Michigan in Blocks, Hitting Percentage and Points and still holds the Michigan Record for Assist and Solo Blocks.

Being one of the few Canadian female athletes to pursue a Professional Volleyball Career, Jen has made a huge impact in Europe so far. In her first professional season, she helped Engelholm capture both the Swedish Grand Prix and Swedish League Championships. Currently signed with Dresden Sports Club in Germany, Jen hopes to lead the team in capturing the German Bundesliga Championship Title for the second season in a row.

Talk about fierce, fearless females! We caught up with Jen before her big match on Sunday vs SSC Palmberg Schwerin, about the pressures of playing important games and her Professional experience thus far.

Club: Scarborough Titans 2006, 2007; Durham Attack 2008, 2009, 2010
Post-Secondary: University of Michigan 2010-2014
Professional: 2014-2015: Engelholm Volleyboll Sällskap - Sweden, 2015-2017: Dresden Sports Club - Germany
Team Canada: Indoor Junior Team 2008; Indoor Senior team 2011-present; Beach National Team 2010-2011

Sitting just two points behind SSC Palmberg Schwerin, in the German league, you have a big match coming up on Sunday. How do you handle the pressure of these matches and what do you do to help prepare yourself?

This Sunday is a big match for several reasons. Firstly, with the top teams this year so close in the standings, a win in 3 or 4 sets would really help us secure home advantage in playoffs. Secondly, because they are such a good team! It will be good to see how we have advanced since the last time we played them earlier in the year. We have had several line up changes since then and have really improved as a team. Will be a good test to see where we are at this point in the season.

You have competed in a number of big games, including NCAA final four, and both a Swedish and German league Championship. For Canadians who don’t typically see these huge crowds and rowdy fans at a volleyball match, tell us a little bit about these experiences. Do you have one match or moment that stands out the most?

Big matches like an NCAA final four or a German championship game can be very intimidating since it seems like your entire season has been working towards this one match. This can be a very intimating and a nerve racking experience if you aren't mentally prepared for it before hand. I always like to remind myself that I don't have to do anything crazy or special in these games. I just need to play the same way that has helped my team get to this point in the season. Usually these big matches are won by the team that can adjust the quickest to the big environment and can steady their nerves with the most ease, not the more talented team on paper. For me, the match that stands out most in my mind was the German cup game last season. We were playing a very difficult team in front of 17,000 people. The match went 5 sets. I ended up serving out the match! We won and our team couldn't have been happier!

What are some of the biggest differences between competing in the NCAA, Sweden and Germany?

In my opinion, it's almost a completely different game. In terms of volleyball skills, the biggest difference is the speed and power the game is played overseas. The tempo to everything you do is much quicker. Game scouting is much more complicated and overall you are playing with women who are bigger and stronger compared to the college game. However, the biggest difference for me is the mentality. In college, everyone in your program is working towards a common goal; to represent your school to the best of your ability and there is a lot of pride that goes along with playing for your university in front of your friends and family. However, playing overseas you must adjust your thinking to realize that this is a business. There is no way around that. You are hired to do a specific job. Your coaches lives depend on winning or losing. That reality is sometimes hard to deal with. This isn't a vacation or just an extended trip traveling, this is your job and you must be ready to perform.

Is there a particular coach who has helped you make it to the next level in your volleyball career?

I have been very very fortunate in both my college and club careers to have had amazing coaches that have all impacted my development in some way. In particular, my coach Leisa Rosen at Michigan made a profound impact on me as a player but more importantly as a person. Leisa always held me to the highest standard and pushed me to get better every single day. She also preached for me to let go of what I cannot control and to be okay being "uncomfortable".

"I am really focused on helping Canada qualify for the Olympics in 4 years." - Jen Cross (Right) with Canadian teammate Tabitha Love.

"I am really focused on helping Canada qualify for the Olympics in 4 years." - Jen Cross (Right) with Canadian teammate Tabitha Love.

Have you experienced any major setbacks and challenges pursuing a career in volleyball?

I have had several injuries that have caused me some set backs. A nagging knee injury that seems to have lasted years at this point. However, I have been relatively lucky that I haven't had any major issues that have threatened my playing career. I am very grateful for this since so much is up to chance!

What are your current and future goals and aspirations?

My current goal is to finish out this pro season as successfully as possible both on the court and off. The German season is very long with many games with the added travel and pressure of Champions league means a very very long season. Long term, I am really focused on helping Canada qualify for the Olympics in 4 years. Our center has just moved from Winnipeg to Richmond BC! This is a great opportunity for our program to really push ourselves to compete at the next level and push the program as far as possible.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would just add that playing professional volleyball is not easy. It is not a walk in the park and it's not just a fun way to delay getting a "real job" or at least that's how I have chosen to see it. I love volleyball but on tough days when you feel like crap and don't want to workout or you are sad you have missed a family get together or your mothers birthday....it's hard to remember why you chose this path. I find it helpful in these moments to remind myself of all the things volleyball has given me in my life! Endless travel to places in the world I would have never seen! Hundreds of teammates and life long friends and so many lessons learned it's hard to imagine the person I would be without these experiences. While playing overseas can be very difficult at times, the positive far out weighs the negative and I am having the time of my life!