For the first time since the 1980’s, John Brown University will have junior varsity volleyball. On July 22, Athletic Director Robyn Daugherty announced that a JV volleyball team will take the court and appointed Director of Facilities Steve Brankle as the head coach. On Aug. 21, JBU announced the inaugural recruiting class, the class of 2024, consisting of 14 players across six states.
Brankle sees many dimensions of quality in his recruiting class. “The first thing that stands out is the quality of young women I was able to recruit. These young ladies represent what the athletic department and JBU stands for,” Brankle said. “The second thing is the quality of players and athletes they are. Some of them had offers to play at other colleges, and all were leaders on their high school and club teams. The third is their ability to play multiple positions. Being a first-year program, that will come in very helpful.”
Many of the players are appreciative of the opportunity to play volleyball at the collegiate level. “I had never dreamed that college volleyball was in my future, but it is an experience that I am absolutely loving and wouldn’t change,” Joanna Norwood, freshman nursing major, said. “The team really is like a family, and I’ve felt that from the first day I met my teammates. It truly is an incredible experience and one that I am so blessed to be a part of.”
“I think it’s one of the best feelings when you finally achieve something that you’ve put a lot of time and work into, so being able to continue playing volleyball in college is a dream come true,” Skyler Robbins, freshman photography major, said. “The more time I spend with the girls, coaches and support staff, the more I realize getting to spend my time playing in an environment like this with such amazing support and love is a huge blessing.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder on the team to get everyone in the same room, and JBU’s postponement of sports means that the team will not get to play any games this fall. Right now, the university has allowed teams to practice and condition in small groups under the supervision of their coaches until Sept. 21, and then the university will evaluate whether practices can be expanded.
“The intensity of our practices has decreased dramatically with only a couple of 45-minute practices a week with small groups, but hopefully over time we will be able to come together more as a team,” Taylor Graham, freshman nursing major, said.
“Normally we would have played close to a half dozen games by now, and we would be a pretty tight unit,” Brankle said. “[S]ome of the players still don’t really know each other off the court, let alone on it,” but he affirms that “due to who they are and their abilities they bring, we will quickly gel” once all fourteen players can be on the court together.
Regarding the postponement of sports, Madison Boehmer, freshman nursing major, called it a “disappointment” but added that “I’ve never been one to dwell on the negative. I am choosing to see this postponement as a chance to get to know my team better, to improve my personal game and to create stronger team chemistry.”
Haylie McCutchen, freshman kinesiology major, had a similar take, saying, “It is upsetting for our season to be postponed, but, in the long run, it will be better for our brand-new team to get to know each other and have more practice before the season starts.”
This is the first time since the early 1990’s that the university will be fielding a junior varsity team, and Brankle expressed excitement to work with his players and help them grow.
“I believe athletes are an integral part of JBU,” Brankle said, adding that “I think the team bond, the work ethic, the mental toughness and the influences of coaches give athletes a great chance to be successful. I am blessed to get to work with Robyn [Daugherty] and the other coaches in teaching student-athletes lessons to help make them better students, spouses, parents, employees and community members through the lessons of volleyball.”
Photo courtesy of JBU Athletics