Zeno seeing more time for volleyball

By Mike Romor

Setter Kayla Zeno entered this season determined to make an impact in her last go-around. So far, she has done just that.

Entering her final season, Zeno impressed head coach Ray Gooden enough for him to increase her court time. She has played in two-thirds of the team’s sets, up from just more than half of the team’s sets from last season. When not on the court, she receives her fair share of exercise, constantly jumping and running down the sideline while cheering on her teammates.

Zeno upped her training over the offseason in hopes of receiving more time on the court. While she is not starting, her contributions as a change-of-pace setter and constant activity while on the sideline have provided plenty of spark for the Huskies.

“I just wanted to go out with a bang,” Zeno said. “I wanted to make sure I tried my hardest and didn’t have any regrets leaving the season.”

Zeno’s understanding of the game and experience at NIU have made her a valuable asset. While on the court, she has solid ball control and utilizes her


Off the court, Zeno constantly coaches her teammates and helps point out changes and trends of opponents.

While accepting a larger role as a player and leader, Zeno has also pushed sophomore setter Alexis Gonzalez to improve her game.

The two vied for the starting position this season, and while Gonzalez retained her spot, Gooden saw improvements from Zeno.

“I think they’re both very capable setters, and that’s why we recruited them,” Gooden said. “They both have their own unique skill sets, and at times you can see their own individual characteristics come out…. I think Kayla has great experience and has put it together and keeps putting more together. She can do some things defensively and at the net.”

Gonzalez had to work hard to keep her starting role, which benefitted both setters. Gonzalez knew the competition would be a challenge. She welcomed it, knowing practicing alongside an experienced player could only elevate both of their playing levels, which helps the team.

“I just want what’s best for the team,” Gonzalez said. “If Kayla’s getting some playing time, that’s awesome. I’m getting playing time, too; that’s good. Our team’s playing good volleyball and that’s all that really matters… You want to work as hard as you can so you better yourself and the team. If Kayla and I just came in here and half-assed everything, then that’s just not going to help anybody in the end.”

Zeno echoed Gonzalez’s views of the competition between the two and believes having Gonzalez on the team has “pushed her harder” than she probably would have if there was not another setter on the roster.

Zeno understood that Gonzalez is a talented setter and not having the starting role seems to have no effect on her play or team spirit.

“I try to bring some of that energy from the bench to the court,” Zeno said. “I try to make sure that everyone is always on the same page.”