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Toreros are set at setter

Sept. 26, 2008

By Glae Thien
SPECIAL TO THE UNION-TRIBUNE

To appreciate the foundation of her all-out effort on the volleyball court, it helps to know that USD senior Jessica Nyrop spent her childhood doing chores on the family ranch in northern Idaho.

To explain the source of her record-setting talents, one should realize that she's the daughter of athletic parents, including her late father, who played on three Stanley Cup champions with the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL.To sense her extreme motivation this season, it's important to note that Nyrop is closing her college career as a redshirt senior on an experienced team that doesn't mask its ambitions to have the best season in school history.

The 15th-ranked Toreros (10-2) are seeking to reach the Elite Eight or better in women's volleyball this season, which first means extending their school's streak to eight straight NCAA Tournament berths. At the core of that mission is Nyrop, a setter who established the school record for assists in a season two years ago.

"We're all really confident in her," senior outside hitter Jaimarie Sutherland said. "She's really experienced, and she's worked hard all the years she's been here. We trust her, we respect her and it's awesome to play with her."

USD coach Jennifer Petrie calls Nyrop the quarterback of a team that has five starters back from last year's squad that claimed its second consecutive West Coast Conference title.

"Jessica has just emulated the type of player that we need to have in our program," said Petrie, whose team opens the conference schedule Thursday at home against Gonzaga. "She's put in a lot of hard work and dedication, and it's definitely paying off for her."

The 5-foot-11 Nyrop grew up in Harrison, Idaho, on the family ranch, where some 30 horses and head of cattle roam. Whenever she returns home, she resumes such chores as hauling hay or digging ditches.

"The hard work on the ranch engraves some work ethic in me, I guess," said Nyrop, off to a strong start this season with 370 assists. "But I knew I wanted to get out and go someplace bigger than working on the ranch."

Nyrop got her start in volleyball in early childhood under the coaching of her mother, Mandy Love, who played the sport at Washington State. By her senior year at Lake City (Idaho) High, Nyrop was listed among the nation's top 100 recruits.

Through her commitment to volleyball, Nyrop has also honored the legacy of her father, Bill, who died in 1995 of colon cancer. He played college hockey at Notre Dame before eventually joining the Canadiens for titles from 1976-78.

"I do wish I would know him now and still learn from him," Jessica Nyrop said. "I never really got to see him play, but I heard that he was such an amazing player mentally and physically."

Nyrop's USD career overlapped with the final two seasons of All-America setter Lindsey Sherburne.

Sherburne helped the 2004 Toreros (24-5) reach the Sweet 16 for the first time and climb to 11th in the national rankings. She holds the conference record with 5,961 assists and has the fourth-best per-game average in NCAA history (13.88).

"I know she definitely pushed me," Nyrop said. "I've wanted to be as good or better than her. That's been a goal of mine."

Nyrop missed the 2005 season because of a broken wrist suffered late in the preceding offseason. But in filling the void left by Sherburne's graduation the next season, she responded with 1,546 assists for a single-season school record as the Toreros (26-6) again advanced to the Sweet 16.

The Toreros (21-8) ended last season on a disappointing note, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Iowa State in five games.

This season, they hope to go much further.

"We all have high standards for ourselves (at USD)," Nyrop said. "We all want to go as far as we can."

Expect Nyrop to keep working hard, just like back at the ranch.