It wasn’t the normal job interview.

Roshan Reddy
Jennifer Gandolph starred on the Michigan volleyball team for four years as an outside hitter. (FILE PHOTO)

You could call it unexpected job training.

When Jennifer Gandolph traveled from her family’s home in Indiana to interview for a job as the assistant volleyball coach at the University of New Orleans in early July, Hurricane Cindy delayed her flight and knocked out the university’s electricity.

She accepted the job a week later, but later described the situation surrounding her interview as a “total mess.”

This “total mess” foreshadowed Gandolph’s first year out of college at the University of New Orleans – though she hasn’t actually spent much time at her new school.

Just a month after Gandolph, the Michigan volleyball program’s all-time leader in kills and digs, moved to New Orleans at the end of August, Hurricane Katrina struck.

Luckily, Gandolph and the New Orleans volleyball program escaped unharmed.

The Privateers started their season in a tournament at Southeast Louisiana in Hammond, La. – just an hour’s drive from New Orleans. Instead of staying in Hammond, the team decided to commute to its matches.

After winning both its games on Aug. 26, the team traveled back to New Orleans for the night. The players and coaches heard warnings of the impending storm and were told to evacuate. The next morning, the team met on the third floor of a parking structure near the local Target.

The Greenwood, Ind., native had limited experience with hurricanes and relied on her more experienced peers for guidance. She followed their advice and packed four days of clothes and her photo albums.

The team carpooled to Hammond for the tournament. Little did Gandolph know that she wouldn’t see New Orleans for another five months.

After winning both games on Saturday, many of the players went to stay with family or teammates. Gandolph and head coach Dana Launey took immediate refuge in Baton Rouge at the home of Louisiana State’s head volleyball coach, Fran Flory, along with three other families. The house was protected with boarded-up windows and a generator.

Using her cell phone for phone calls and text messages, Gandolph was able to stay in contact with her family and keep them aware of her location.

After four days in Baton Rouge, the storm passed and Gandolph decided to drive back to Indiana and wait until she could return to New Orleans.

When Gandolph got home, she thought she would be called back to New Orleans within days. So her mother prepared a big family meal for that Sunday night.

Nobody expected the impromptu feast, but at the time, nothing could’ve been better.

“Everybody (who was in town got) together, because it had been a long time since everybody was together,” Jennifer’s mother Ann said. “We are still having family dinners on Sunday nights. It kind of started as a Katrina tradition with whoever (was) here.”

Jennifer wasn’t the only Gandolph affected by this year’s hurricane season. Because of Hurricane Wilma, one of Jennifer’s older brothers lost his job in Florida and moved back to Indiana two weeks later.

In the meantime, Gandolph didn’t receive word on when she could return to New Orleans.

“It went from a day-to-day thing to a week-to-week thing,” she said.

As it became clear that the season would be cancelled and she would be home for a few months, Gandolph combined visiting former college teammates in the Midwest with recruiting for the Privateers.

Since the NCAA granted the entire team a redshirt season, Gandolph limited her recruiting to high school juniors.

“It was more just showing my face and letting people know that we are still a school and have a program,” Gandolph said.

She also found time to visit Ann Arbor five times to watch Michigan play.

“It was neat that I could see them play,” Gandolph said. “I’ll never get to see them play again, since we’ll be in-season.”

Since the University of New Orleans continued to pay her salary, Gandolph couldn’t take another job while at home. She busied herself with her young niece and nephew and assisted in her mother’s elementary school gym classes.

After months of playing the waiting game, Gandolph finally learned that she would have to report to work on Jan. 3. Her apartment was unharmed, except for the refrigerator she would need to replace.

After handling administrative tasks, the coaching staff was just as eager to take to the court as the players were.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to be doing what we like to do most with our job, which is coaching,” Launey said. “(The players) have been very anxious to get the uniform on and have the officials blow the whistle. Even though spring doesn’t count to our overall record, it will mean something to us.”

The Privateers couldn’t have picked a more appropriate opponent to start the spring exhibition season. They beat cross-town rival Tulane in four games in their first match last weekend. New Orleans also lost to Southern Miss later in the day.

“We haven’t played in seven months,” Gandolph said. “This is our year wrapped up in the four weeks we get to play.”

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