Teammates

volleyballhudlleWe talk about leaving things better than when we got there. 

 Well, it gets tougher to leave something better than when you got there if it’s already in a pretty good state, but, I believe, the graduating women’s volleyball players did just that.

 Here’s my lasting memory from this group.

 It’s not a victory—there were plenty of those,  but it’s this…When the team lost to Columbia in the quarterfinal round of the NAIA National Volleyball tournament they huddled up one last time and then they acknowledged the faithful crowd who had cheered them on with waves and tears flowing.

 It was then it hit me.

That’s it for this group.

That’s it for a group that seemed to genuinely enjoy playing and being with each other.

It’s rare to have a teammate at the collegiate level of athletics for four years.  Teams are fluid, injuries happen; goals change.  It’s even more rare to have a teammate for eight years.  To be at the same level of competition with someone for a high school and college career.

How about a decade?  It just doesn’t happen. I mean, so many variables are in play.  You have to go to the same grade school, compete for two years, go to the same high school and then choose the same college and survive the rigors that journey entails.

Now, throw into that decade’s experience these teammates are not only all-conference caliber players but also all-Americans and they’ve earned the highest academic honors available as well.

And they come from a town with a population of under 8,000.

Whether they realize it or not Ema Altena and Jamie De Jager (Gesink) will be forever linked in my mind.  A couple volleyball players who showed up on campus in 2015 and set and hit the Defender volleyball program to a sustained level I’m not sure anyone could predict.

I posed the question to Ema, “Would you be willing to write about your college choice and playing with Jamie as a teammate for all of these years.”

The answer was a quick nod of the head and a firm “Yes, I’ll do that.”

The busy-ness of the end of a semester wiped out my initial plan to get this posted by Christmas, but, I think it was worth the wait.

Thanks for allowing me a front row seat for the ride and thanks for letting me see a glimpse into your friendship.

mbyk

I started thinking about college during my junior year of high school. I was familiar with local colleges, but unlike some students, my parents weren’t partial to any one college. My parents encouraged me to explore my options as a few schools were interested in recruiting me for volleyball.

It sounds crazy now, but there was a time during my high school career that I was unsure whether or not I wanted to play college volleyball.

It sounds crazy now, but there was a time during my high school career that I was unsure whether or not I wanted to play college volleyball.

Those who know me best know that I am a competitor and a perfectionist; unknown to my high school coach and prospective  college coaches,  I was worried the collegiate game would be too fast for me.

Deciding between colleges was not an easy decision for me and something that I wrestled with between my junior and senior year. I was unsure about where and if I would continue with volleyball. I was given an October deadline during the fall of my senior year and my dad was ultimately the voice that helped solidified my college decision.

One night when we were discussing college when my dad asked, “Ema, if you were to have a career ending injury, what school would you want to be at?”

“Ema, if you were to have a career ending injury, what school would you want to be at?”

Months of deliberation, all the pros and cons lists flew out the window after he posed this simple question. Dordt was a place that I could envision myself growing in my faith, as well as  a student and a volleyball player. Dordt felt like home on my visit as a junior in high school and this has never changed. This is especially evident whenever I slip up and refer to Dordt as “home” in front of my mom. She doesn’t appreciate this too much J.

I am incredibly thankful that my college volleyball experience did not include the career-ending injury my dad mentioned. While I was blessed to have avoided injury, my volleyball career was blessed for another unique reason. As a hitter, I had the same setter from 7th grade to my senior year of college, with the exception of one year.

Jamie and I have played on the same team for nine years, which has included a total of 5 championship games together. We’ve grown from awkward preteen “athletes” in oversized P.E. uniforms to collegiate volleyball players. We’ve not only been teammates, but friends since grade school. Whether it was as tomboys playing flag football every recess or hanging out in the same circle of friends in high school, Jamie and I have always been close friends.

Whether it was as tomboys playing flag football every recess or hanging out in the same circle of friends in high school, Jamie and I have always been close friends.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was pulled up to varsity for the state volleyball tournament it was Jamie, who had been setting for varsity all year, who made me feel comfortable and welcomed. This helped to make my transition onto the varsity court as a sophomore much easier.

Jamie also played an important role in my development of becoming a versatile hitter. When Coach Veerbeek challenged me to run new and faster routes at Western, Jamie showed a willingness to help. And when it came to deciding on colleges, having Jamie as a setter wasn’t the determining factor, but it was definitely an added bonus.

Our friendship has continued throughout college and played an important role in our collegiate volleyball careers. About a month into my freshman year, Coach Hanson told me that it was his plan to make me into an outside hitter. I had never played as a full time outside hitter before and was a middle hitter all four years at Western.

While the position was a little awkward at first and I realized I had a lot to learn, it was Jamie again who made this transition incredibly easy and comfortable. From the confidence I had with her as my setter, she helped me become confident in my new found position. As teammates, I think Jamie and I compliment and balance each other well. Her athleticism as a setter helped maximize my own athleticism as a hitter. And if you’ve ever attended one of our games, you’ll notice our personalities balance each other (which is a good thing). During the times when I am competitive and passionate, Jamie remains calm and collected.

I have been asked before whether or not our friendship impacts the way we play. The answer to this question will always be a resounding yes.

Our friendship throughout the years has made our communication and connection as hitter and setter incredibly easy. In order for each of us to be successful and contribute well for our team, we have to trust each other.

Being friends our whole lives has developed a trust and genuine respect which does not have to be rebuilt every fall season. This trust has allowed us to be honest with one another and has created a foundation of accountability. The most successful teams are comprised of players who care for each other deeply, not just as teammates but as people.

This trust has allowed us to be honest with one another and has created a foundation of accountability. The most successful teams are comprised of players who care for each other deeply, not just as teammates but as people.

Teammates who are committed to making each other better in all aspects. I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to play with a setter who has done both for me for my entire career.

 

One thought on “Teammates

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  1. Great girls both of you! It’s always been fun to watch how the two of you connected with each other as well as your team mates! Blessings as your lives take different directions but may you always remain friends!

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