Nov. 13, 2009

Courtesy of St. Mary's (Minn.)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — On the roster, she’s listed as a 5-foot-8 middle hitter — yes, a 5-foot-8 middle hitter.

But all you have to do is watch Saint Mary’s University’s Jessica Larson (Pine Island, Minn.) play for one volleyball set, and you’ll agree — she doesn’t play like a 5-8 middle hitter.

More like a 6-8 middle hitter.

Thursday evening, Larson certainly made her presence felt — all 5-foot-8 inches.

The senior collected 10 kills, including seven in the first two sets when the Cardinals needed her most, in helping SMU to a 3-1 victory over Thomas More in the opening round of the NCAA Central Regional at Washington (Mo.) University.

“Jess was a difference-maker for us — especially in the first two sets,” said SMU coach Mike Lester, whose team rebounded from a 25-23 first-set loss to beat the Saints — and earn a berth in Friday’s 7 p.m. semifinal against top-seeded and host Washington (Mo.) University. “She was giving (Thomas More) fits in those first two sets, and when a team focuses all their attention on her, it frees up Jess (Mate) and Sarah (Gardner) to take some good swings.

“And, if they don’t worry about her, (Larson) will just keep pounding away.”

Larson admits that she isn’t the stereotypical middle hitter, but that hasn’t deterred her in the least.

“I’d love to be 6-2,” she joked. “But to be honest, I don’t really think too much about my height — I just go out there and play my hardest.

“It does help to be able to jump a little, though.”

And she certainly has proven over the years that she can jump.

Larson enters Friday’s national tournament semifinal with a single-season career-best 229 kills, while also leading the team in attack percentage (.274). She is one of five SMU players with 200 or more kills and is second on the team in blocks with 61.

“This was an awesome win for us, but we’re not done yet, either,” said Larson. “We know that (Washington University) is going to be a tough, tough opponent — and we are going to have to play our best match of the season to beat them.

“But we’re definitely not going to be out there expecting to lose — we’re going to give it our best, just like we do every time we step on the court.”