by Brittany Adcox
One of the most renowned female athletes in Benedictine history, Head Volleyball Coach Jen Wildes’ success and notoriety as a student-athlete has transferred over to her coaching career.
As a collegian, Wildes was a four-year starter from 1998-2002 in both volleyball and basketball, receiving all-Northern Illinois Iowa Conference (NIIC) honors in both sports all four years. As a freshman, she earned the title as Benedictine’s female “Athlete of the Year” award and continued to tally awards as she was named “Player of the Year” three consecutive seasons.
“I learned so much about the game,” said Wildes. “I had great coaches and I grew to really appreciate volleyball.”
Her admiration for the game is what drove Wildes to continue on as a coach. In her first year as the Eagles head coach in 2005, Wildes won the final championship of the NIIC, now known as the Northern Athletics Conference (NAC). Four of Wildes’ 2005 players were named to the All-NIIC volleyball squad with one of them being named “Player of the Year.” To date, Wildes has continued to produce title-winning players and teams.
While her love and appreciation for the game has only grown stronger, Wildes doesn’t allow her competitive edge to take over her sensibility.
“I want to win just as much now as I did when I played,” said Wildes. “But I do tell myself to try to always remember what it was like to be a player. I do my best to try to keep the big picture in mind, but it also has to be about doing things the right way.
“Jen is someone who genuinely cares about her players,” says junior captain and outside hitter Kaitlin Walsh. “She’s always asking us how we’re doing and what we’re up to. She’s not afraid to be stern with us, but at the same time, she can goof off with us.
While most collegiate coaches are all work-no play, Wildes remains firm when necessary but does her best to keep the big picture in mind. It’s all about doing things the right way and maintaining a sense of balance.
“I want my girls to have just as good, if not, better experience as student-athletes here than I did,” Wildes said.
“The qualities Jen has about her as a person carries over to how she is as a coach,” said Meagan Kmieciak, offensive specialist and captain alongside Walsh. “Not only is she a motherly figure off the court, she is one on the court as well. She is loyal, trustworthy, caring and funny.”
Kmieciak has made is clear that Wildes qualities as an overall person, coach, mother, and wife have had a mammoth impact on not only her career, but the program as well.
“Jen is the program,” she added. “All her qualities as a person are put into the program. She has high standards for us. She had a broad vision as a coach but focuses on important details.”
“When I visited Benedictine, I knew it was the right place for me,” said Wildes. “I believe in the program and I believe in what we do.”
This philosophy resonates within the team.
“She’s always made sure that I believed in myself and would let me know she believed in me as well,” said Kmieciak.
Deriving from a successful program herself, Wildes has ensured that her success as a player transfers over to her tactics as a coach. To date, the Eagles remain a threat in the Northern Athletics Conference, and her impact as a player and coach is inherent.
“Jen and I have talked about me being the type of person that would run through a wall for her and the program,” said Kmieciak, “and I wouldn’t question why I’d do that. I think that’s the type of impact Jen has had on me. She always has your back and cares about what’s best for you as a person and athlete.”