Friendship Drives Volleyball Seniors - Southwestern University

Friendship Drives Volleyball Seniors

Friendship Drives Volleyball Seniors

Last Saturday, defensive specialist Jillian Jeane took the court with her fellow seniors for the first and final time this season against the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders.

Recovering from a torn ACL, Jeane's final season with the Southwestern University Pirates volleyball team will be limited to the one ceremonial appearance she had on senior day, when she fired off a couple of serves with a heavily braced leg to the uproarious applause of the Robertson Center crowd.

Though she hasn't been able to join fellow seniors Brandi Campos or Jamison Duck on the court, she's been with them every step of the way, shouting encouragement from the sidelines and off the court as the trio that started their collegiate careers together sees it through to the end.

"Jillian was a big part of what we did last year, before her injury. And the biggest thing you can say about her is how she's handling it and what she chooses to bring to the team," Head Coach Don Flora said. "We call her sunshine because she's been a ray of light every day. She's made the choice to bring a constant bit of joy to the gym.

"She made the choice to be constant and consistent in her energy. It's easy to be good one day, but to be good every day is difficult. I'll never forget what she's done for this program in an emotional sense."

It was Jeane's dream to play at Southwestern, owed in part to hearing about her uncle's time as a student-athlete with the university. By contrast, Campos joined the Pirates without a campus visit and Duck, who'd grown up in larger schools in Houston, was unsure of the adjustment to a smaller university like Southwestern.

The trio's friendship, however, quickly made the campus home.

"I remember being terrified for the first practice," Duck said. "We were the little new ones. We had no idea what we were doing."

"We went into this new experience together, not knowing what to expect," Campos added. "Luckily we had each other and it worked out great."

There were early struggles individually, even as the team around them flourished to a conference championship in their freshman season. The trio spent nights in the dorms picking each other up after tough practices, sometimes crying but mostly laughing; forging the type of friendship to help see each other through injuries, on-court struggles, or whatever else college life might throw at them.

"Whether it's going to the movies or going to eat, it's just non-stop laughing," Campos said. "We've stuck to being close friends throughout our four years on and off the court."

It was enough to help them survive long enough to develop through the program's culture so they could, in turn, help to shape it.

On Monday, Campos was named the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) volleyball defensive player of the week after totaling 73 digs through three matches for an average of 5.21 digs per set.

It was just one more accolade amongst an impressive resume of accomplishments for Campos, earning three such awards last season on her way to winning the 2017 SCAC Backrow Player of the Year and Second Team All-ACAC.

"One of the cool things about Brandi is watching someone develop and grow as a human being," Flora said. "When she first got there, she really struggled with, 'what's my role, what do I do?' But she kept getting better every year, adding to what we did. Her maturation over the past few years has been tremendous."

Confidence has been infused in every part of Campos' game, from digs to serves, helping to lead a veteran-laden team to the NCAA Georgetown Regional Semifinal last season and setting the tone for constant improvement from this season's younger iteration.

"She does a really good job of handling emotions and picking people up when they need it," Flora said. "What she's doing, seeing her really take over, it's a joy to watch what she does for the team emotionally and physically."

A big part of her contributions come from her ability to communicate on the court, especially with Duck.

"Brandi is literally my eyes on the court," Duck said. "If someone tells me they think I had a great spot, it's probably because Brandi saw it and told me. We work so well together in the backrow, so it's cool to see how we've evolved to know where we are on the court at all times."

That isn't always the easiest thing with Duck, who often marches to the beat of her own drum; often bolstering the Pirates' system by working outside of it.

"She has a very unique style. She's not the prototypical left side, mid-line passer," Flora said. "She has a feel for the game that is the JD way, her own Duck way.

"It's uncanny how she sniffs things out. There are times where we tell her to go here but she sees something else over there; so she'll be in the wrong position but ends up in the right place. She definitely has a natural IQ and feel for the game so sometimes you just have to let her fly her way."

Flora described Duck as someone who holds her cards close but reveals a competitive streak and love for the game and her teammates in deeper conversations.

"I remember meeting Jamison for the first time. I thought she was this really cool person and I wasn't going to get to be friends with her because I'm not cool enough," Jeane joked in her bubbly way.

Four years later, all three are now inseparable. When Duck broke through for her 1,000th career kill, it fittingly happened at home with Jeane shouting encouragement from the sidelines, Campos controlling the ball with a dig and calling shots from the backrow, and Duck attacking the outside arm of the Crusaders' block.

"I wouldn't want to have done this with anyone else," Campos said. "Just having these two with me to crack a joke if I'm having a bad day is amazing. It's been fun to come out here and compete with my best friends." 

Though last Saturday was the last home match of their collegiate careers, with nine regular season matches remaining, there's more volleyball to play. And with four years of memories and milestones, their friendships should last long beyond even that.