HOUGHTON - Janelle Rupkalvis may be a new name to Michigan Tech volleyball fans this fall, but her teammates have already become well acquainted with the freshman rightside and middle hitter.
Rupkalvis, a 6-foot-1 native of Andover, Minn., was recruited by previous head coach Orlando Gonzalez, and spent all spring semester at Tech, most of that time under current head coach Matt Jennings.
"The advantage of being able to come a semester early is priceless," Jennings said.
Janelle Rupkalvis works in practice last week. The freshman from Andover, Minn., enrolled at Michigan Tech in the spring. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
"It was nice to be able to get my foot in the door with the coaching staff, so I don't have to deal with a new school, new state, new coaching staff, new team all at once," Rupkalvis said. "It made the transition smooth."
But, even though she has an extra semester of preparation under her belt, she'll still have to adjust more to Jennings' much faster-paced system and style.
"My feet are not very fast so it's hard for me in the middle," admitted Rupkalvis, "but the right side I've been able to be successful because I've been able to take some of the things you can run in the middle and transfer those over to the right side."
What Rupkalvis lacks in foot speed, at least for now, she makes up for with what Jennings said may be the best block on the team and a burning desire to get better, plus a nice combo of size (one of only two players on the team taller than 6 feet), strength, touch on the ball and smarts.
"I really like to mess with the other team mentally, not always hitting the same spot and trying to make them move and not be able to predict what I'm going to do," said Rupkalvis, whose initial interest in Michigan Tech was due to its engineering program.
She committed to Tech in the spring of 2011 and started in Tech's biomedical engineering program this spring semester, coming off a high school career in which she twice garnered all-conference recognition at Andover High School. She also played five seasons at Northern Lights Volleyball Club.
"Volleyball was a huge part of my life, which made it a huge part of my family's life as well. It'll be different for them," said Rupkalvis, who said her father John jokingly texted her saying he wants to go to therapy because he doesn't know what to do now that he can't regularly attend games.
Janelle will have plenty to do when she's not playing in games, staying busy with engineering classes, but she has some interesting non-engineering and non-volleyball hobbies, too.
"I really enjoy painting and decorating. I'm really artsy, which isn't normal in engineering," said Rupkalvis.
She's also interested in photography, having taken senior pictures for people before, and, strangely enough, she can also unicycle.
How all those abilities and interests fit into the team as the future unfolds is yet to be determined, but Jennings certainly feels Rupkalvis can make a difference on the court.
"Janelle is a great kid with a great attitude, great ability, and with hard work she could do a lot for our team if she says dedicated," he said.