Roth finds a new home
Crook County High School volleyball star Jennifer Roth remembers being thrilled when she opted to play volleyball at the University of Hawaii Hilo over several other choices.
That feeling of elation soon turned to sadness, dread, and even anger as circumstances caused that scholarship to be taken away.
However, Roth landed on her feet as the volleyball community worked together to find another place for her to play.
"It was definitely super tense in our house for a while," Roth said. "But I think that everything happens for a reason, and I'm really excited for the new opportunity."
When Roth committed to the University of Hawaii Hilo, Tino Reyes was the head coach. Reyes, who had previously coached at both Oregon State and Chaminade, had dramatically improved the program in his first two years at Hilo.
However, the team had plateaued in recent years, and following the 2016 season, Reyes was dismissed as head coach.
In the winter, the university replaced Reyes with new coach Gene Krieger.
"I had checked the website for a new coach every single day until he came," Roth recalled. "I was so excited."
Krieger immediately began recruiting, and that's when the problems for Roth started.
Krieger took a recruiting trip to Las Vegas during a tournament that the Rimrock 18s National team participated in.
While there, he stopped to watch the Rimrock team play.
Krieger apparently expected Roth to be playing for the nationals team and had not bothered to check in advance.
Instead, in an effort to save money and to play with her close friends, Roth had elected to play for a different Rimrock club team that didn't travel outside of the Northwest.
After all, she already had a college scholarship locked up and was consequently just playing for fun.
Krieger apparently didn't see it that way and assumed that Roth wasn't good enough to make Rimrock's top team.
As a result, Krieger gave Roth a call that she said was one of the hardest things she has ever had to listen to.
According to Roth, Krieger said that she would never play for him at Hawaii Hilo.
"The new coach didn't need me," Roth said. "Basically he gave me three options and none of them were good. He said that I could come and redshirt, if he would let me, which was a big if. Then he said that I could come and waste a year and not play and transfer, which would lose a year of eligibility, or he told me that I could decommit."
Roth hung up in shock and spent the next couple of days trying to make a decision.
"I think my mom took it the hardest," Roth said. "That and my dad. I just felt like I had been wronged, and my brother was a little mad."
Before making a final decision, Roth called Crook County Head Coach Rosie Honl to ask for advice.
"I think honestly talking to her was the hardest thing for me, because I owe everything to Rosie," Roth said.
Roth decided that the best choice would be to decommit from the university, but that came with a huge risk.
Most of the scholarships available to players had already been given out. Worse yet for Roth, since she had already signed a full scholarship offer, she had not applied for any financial aid packages, or applied for any kind of academic scholarships.
Adding to the problems, the deadline for admission to most universities was rapidly approaching, and Roth didn't have the money to go to school without a comparable offer to the one that she had at Hilo.
"I think it was relieving, honestly," Roth said. "Because I was so scared of him not getting along with me and not being able to fit in. I chose to go so far away because I really felt comfortable with the coach, and then he was gone. It was a lot of stress. I didn't know it at the time, but I guess it's quite common when a new coach comes for players to lose their scholarships."
Decommitting meant that Roth's future in volleyball was uncertain.
First, she had to fill out paperwork with the NCAA, and then she had to wait to see if they granted her appeal to decommit.
The NCAA had the right to grant the appeal, grant the appeal but take away a year of eligibility, or deny the appeal completely.
However, Roth was quick to note that the third option was highly unlikely as one of the reasons that the NCAA checklist gives for players decommitting is a change of coaches.
A couple days after filling out the paperwork, Roth received an email from the NCAA saying that her appeal had been accepted and she would not lose any eligibility.
"Once that went through, it was really like weight off my shoulders because I knew that I could start fresh," Roth said.
Still, that didn't guarantee that Roth would be able to find a suitable place to play.
All the coaches who had offered Roth scholarships prior to her decision to attend Hawaii Hilo no longer had roster spots available, so all of those options were gone.
As time went on, Roth said that she began to have doubt about her ability to even play college volleyball, wondering if Krieger was right and she wasn't really good enough.
"I think that was the hardest part," she said. "The self-doubt is really tough on you. At first, I had to keep reminding myself that it's not me, it's just the circumstances, and I'm still good."
With the scholarship gone, Roth started trying to determine what options she still had available.
"I was looking at websites," Roth said. "Rosie told me to check Prepvolleyball.com. They have so many options like who needs an outside hitter, how much money they can offer, and things like that, so I was sending so many emails."
Roth added that Honl, who was angry with Krieger, also sprang into action, calling a coach that she knew in Nebraska.
That coach had a full roster but called another coach in Arizona.
Eventually, coaches began to contact Roth.
"I had three phone calls from three different coaches in one night," Roth said. "Everyone was super nice, and I feel like the volleyball community came together to help. They all understood my situation."
The coach in Arizona was interested in Roth as a player but could only offer a partial scholarship. With no other scholarship money or financial aid, Roth had to decline.
"They could only offer me half, but they wanted what was best for me, which I really respect and appreciate, so they gave my information to the coach where I'm going now."
The coach in Nebraska had just been hired as the school's new head coach.
"This time, I didn't get a chance to visit," Roth said. "Some coaches offered to FaceTime to give me a tour of their school on FaceTime, but I ended up making my decision based on where I thought I would fit best with the coaches and the players overall."
Roth finally accepted a full ride from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas.
"I think ultimately I found the best spot for me," she said. "I really liked the coach, and she said really wonderful things. I think it was a breath of fresh air to meet a coach that wanted me and saw something in me that I honestly didn't see in myself at that point."
Although initially she was angry with the coach at Hawaii Hilo, Roth is now thankful that the coach was upfront about where she stood in his plans.
"I learned not everyone treats you the way friends do," she said. "I don't like how he did things, but I'm thankful that he told me I wasn't in his plans before I got there."
In the end, Roth is confident that MidAmerica Nazarene University will be a good fit for her.
"I didn't expect to be going to a religious university, but it's not a problem. I think it will be a good fit," she said. "The volleyball community rallied to help me out, and I'm really grateful to all of them. I'm very happy with my choice, and like I said, everything happens for a reason."