Jessica Schaffer is a self-proclaimed nerd.
"I might say the best thing about going to school here (Rochester Institute of Technology) is all the friends I have," said Schaffer, a native of Penfield and a junior at the Rochester, N.Y., college.
"Because this is a tech school, no one is concerned with things like fashion and looking a certain way," Schaffer added. "You don`t have much of the soap-opera stuff you have at some colleges. We`re all a bunch of nerds, I guess."
Certainly being talented in math and laboratory sciences fits the classic stereotype, but few people picture nerds as accomplished athletes. Yet that`s just what Schaffer is, having led the RIT volleyball team to one of its best seasons in history while turning in one of the school`s most successful individual efforts.
Schaffer, a 2005 graduate of Keystone High School, has been named to the All-Empire8 Conference`s first team. She was also selected Player of the Year by the New York State Women`s Collegiate Athletic Association, a confederation of 40 mostly smaller colleges in New York. She was also named Most Valuable Player at two invitational tournaments this fall.
The Tigers placed second to No. 1 seed Stevens Tech at the recent Empire8 Tournament and were third at the NYSWCAA tournament.Â RIT (31-10) will play Heidelberg tonight at 6 p.m. in the first round of the 61-team NCAA Division III tournament a Wittenberg University in Springfield.
"I`m very excited about this because we`ll be playing in Ohio," Schaffer said. "It`s about 2Â½ hours away (from Penfield)."
The Tigers had no matches in the Buckeye State this year. Roger Worsley, the RIT coach, wants to change that for Schaffer`s senior year.
Why not? Schaffer had always been a vital part of the Tigers` success, but this season the 5-foot-6 outside hitter`s improvement was made in giant steps. Schaffer will enter tonight`s match with 612 kills (4.4 per game) and 588 digs (4.2 per game). Should she get to 600 digs she will be the first player in RIT history to reach that figure for kills and digs in the same season. Her kill total is third on the school`s single-season list and she is No. 6 in digs for one season.
"She has raw natural ability, no matter what the sport," Worsley said. "It was evident by the end of her first year. We had a senior-laden team when Jess was a freshman, so she didn`t play much in the front. We played Jessica almost exclusively on defense. By the end of the year we knew we had something special."
She finished her freshman year with 424 digs, third on the team. Last year Schaffer was second on the Tigers in both kills (464) and digs (474) and was named second-team all-conference.
But while Schaffer calls herself and her fellow RIT students nerds, Worsley said his star hitter was something just the opposite - a free spirit.
"That isn`t something I necessarily discourage," the coach said. "Jess tended to want to do her own thing last year. This year, she`s all business once that ball is served.Â Jess has become a much smarter player. Her ball control is a lot better. That`s where she has really improved."
Schaffer said she almost attended RIT`s crosstown rival, the University of Rochester, but she was late getting her transcripts to that institution. So rather than attend one of several colleges courting her that were more geared to liberal arts than mathematics (Schaffer is majoring in engineering), she decided to take her education and volleyball talents, which earned her all-district and All-Ohio honorable mention honors in her senior year at Keystone, to another Rochester school.
"It`s worked out well, because we have beaten them every year I`ve been here," she said.
So if anyone is tempted to describe Jessica Schaffer as a nerd, don`t say it like it`s a bad thing.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or email@example.com.