Back in the late 2000s, the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse would swell with eager Bison fans frantically watching the best volleyball team in the Summit League. The Bison faithful still fill the old gymnasium today, but now, they see an old star on the sidelines. Jennifer Lopez has turned her kneepads in for a whistle. Although her competitive volleyball days are over, this volleyball legend is still making an impact on the program.
(2017 Update: Jennifer Lopez was recently named the interim head volleyball coach at North Dakota State.)
Bison Illustrated: What were some challenges you had going from player to coach?
Jennifer Lopez: “I think the biggest thing I had to overcome was the idea that I was no longer a player. I can’t do it anymore. So it’s teaching and sharing what I know and what I’ve done and experience and get the girls to understand that.”
BI: Who’s helped you with that transition?
JL: “I think it started with my sister (Kelly Lopez). When she was done she got into coaching–and she’s a strength and conditioning coach–so seeing her have to take a step back and learn how to process the game but still teach the kids her way of thinking and not being able to do it (the actions) for them.”
BI: Was it a goal to get back to NDSU after you were done playing?
JL: “I never really had a plan. I was open to many different routes, whether it was teaching or coaching. I thought about both and the teaching opportunity came first so that’s the one I went with. And then this coaching opportunity happened, too, and Coach T (Kari Thompson) talked to me and asked if I wanted to come back, and why wouldn’t I? Being a part of NDSU and athletics and being a part of Bison is who I am and what I’ve done so it’s home for me. The decision to come back was easy. It doesn’t get easier leaving what I love because I love teaching, but I get a little bit of the teaching aspect here, too.”
BI: Is this the next step in your college-coaching career or is this where you want to stay because you are from the area?
JL: “Yes, my family is still here. My sister is away, but I really don’t know. I wasn’t planning on going this route, but whether it’s an opportunity for me to advance or to stay here, I’m okay with both. I’m taking everything as it comes. I haven’t decided what my long-term goals are going to be right now (laughs).”
BI: Yeah, those five-year plan questions are tough with coaches. Sorry.
JL: “Right. I thought I had my five-year plan, but that five-year plan changed. So that’s where I am and I’m just accepting and taking whatever I’m in right now.”
JL: “I think so. I think throughout all the years we’ve had a high respect for each other, as a player and now working with her and having her as a colleague. I think with me coming back, things haven’t changed. We still have the same mindset, and we understand what each other is thinking, and I think that’s one thing that has contributed to us being able to work together so well as a volleyball family.”
BI: You come from a volleyball family and now it’s your job. What else does Jennifer do?
JL: “Well, I don’t know. That’s a tough question (laughs). It shouldn’t be that tough. I’m very big into my family and very family-oriented. I love spending time with my family and going to visit my sister, she’s not around here anymore. She’s now at Boise State. I have a couple times made the trip to see her.”
(Photo Courtesy of NDSU Athletics) Jennifer Lopez is bringing her All-Conference knowledge to the bench for NDSU’s volleyball team.
BI: What’s it going to take for these girls on the team to elevate the program to where it was when you left in 2011?
JL: “It’s getting them to work together and not necessarily individually doing it, but trusting what the program is about and buying into that mindset every single day. I think that’s one thing me and my teammates found to be successful. We bought in, came in every day and we knew what we wanted, and I know they’ve had some years where they’ve struggled and been young, but they’re at that point now for them to kind of take it on a little more and that’s what I hope to bring to them. That experience and knowledge to what it actually does take.”
BI: So do you still get out there and play with them during practice?
JL: “Every once in awhile.”
BI: Have you shown them all your moves yet?
JL: “Not all of them. I am keeping some for later, but they’ll see them eventually.”
BI: How do you think the team has been doing so far?
JL: “I definitely think that even from the start of the preseason to what we’ve been able to do now with our tournaments and successes so far it’s definitely stepping in the right direction. It’s good to see some of the changes that have been made and the kids stepping into the different roles that we need to be filled. Definitely a lot of progress and I’m excited where this season is going to end because you never know.”