The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

With speed and a drive to win, GV volleyball is ready to play

Courtesy GVL Archives

Although their season begins on Sept. 1, Grand Valley State University’s Head Volleyball Coach, Jason Johnson said it began over seven months ago.

“Everybody thinks the season starts in August, but the work really starts in January after our season ended in December,” Johnson said.

Following a 2022 season where they reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Regional Tournament, the GVSU volleyball program is eager to take the court. 

Johnson is beginning his twenty-fifth season with the program and his third as the head coach and has followed in the footsteps of legendary GVSU coach Deanne Scanlon. Scanlon won over 600 games and took home the Division II National Championship in 2005. 

Now, Johnson is coming off leading the Lakers to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Tournament Championship game and to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament appearance was the program’s first time since 2015.

“One of the things that our players are gonna hear from me consistently is that we have to find ways to get better every year,” Johnson said. “I think there is an expectation in this program that we are a program that is looked at as a nationally ranked and nationally recognized brand and that is where we need to be.” 

Working under Scanlon for over 20 years has taught Johnson the sacrifice that needs to be made to reach the national championship again.

“How much time you have to put in, (and) how much work you have to do away from the spotlight of the Friday and Saturday night games— those are the things that if you’re not willing to pay the price for you’re not going to be successful,” Johnson said.

Finding different ways to get better is a constant battle for a head coach. GVSU has a team stocked with eight upperclassmen and three Division I transfers, so talent is not an issue. Junior setter, Jordyn Gates finished last season as one of the Laker’s top players, earning American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American honors. Gates was a transfer from the University of Arkansas in 2022. She has the potential to help push the program with Johnson’s guidance as she led the NCAA in triple-doubles (13) last season.

Her sister, Madison Gates, is a graduate transfer from the University of Purdue Fort Wayne. She joins sophomore, Jaden Rice from Rutgers, making them the two Division I newcomers that were brought in during the 2023 winter semester.

One component that Johnson has his team working on is becoming faster and using speed to their advantage on the court. To keep up with some of the better teams in the conference and in the country, the Lakers believe that becoming faster, especially as a setter, could elevate their play. 

Senior Rachel Jacquay commented about how crucial that is for her specifically: “As a setter, I’m making sure my positioning is consistent with my feet and hands, just trying to support the hitters to get them success.” 

Fellow senior, Sarah Wight said “just getting to the ball quicker and having my arm up,” is the best way for her to become a more versatile player.

Johnson said the final component for this team is learning how to win in big games and big situations: “The question mark we still have to ask each other is if we are ready to win yet. The maturity of winning is something that you have to earn. It just doesn’t show up.”

“It is a mentality that takes time to build and you have to earn it. I think that’s the piece right now that we’re still trying to get to that we haven’t reached yet,” Johnson added.

However, winning is not everything to Johnson. In his time with Scanlon, one of the biggest lessons he learned was the value of team culture and relationships outside of the court and you learn that through trial and error.

“You think it’s all about winning and losing, and you realize that comes and goes,” Johnson said. “There are great things that come out of those, but it’s the conversations, the relationships and the phone calls 10 or 20 years down the road that matter the most when building the program up.” 

That general sentiment and team mindset are reiterated by leaders like Wight and Jacquay who are extremely excited to leave it all on the court for one final ride as a Laker. 

Voted to finish second in the GLIAC behind Ferris State University, the Lakers are ready to hit the court as they begin their campaign on Sept. 1 at the Florida Invitational in Lakeland, Fla. The contest is a two-day set of doubleheaders that start with Washburn University at 1 p.m. followed by Barry University at 4 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Nelson Hubbell
Nelson Hubbell, Sports Editor
Nelson Hubbell is the Sports Editor for the Lanthorn for the 2023-2024 school year. A senior at Grand Valley State University, before his time with the Lanthorn, he was a staff writer for The Collegiate Live, Grand Rapids Community College's student publication where he was a student for two years. He worked for a restaurant for four and a half years in Holland, Mich. called Hops at 84 East, a place he holds close to his heart. During his time there he was a manager for roughly two years. He loves camping, hiking and being outside in general. He is super passionate about football, basketball, baseball and hockey and loves all things sports and competition. Nelson will be pursuing a career in sportscasting as a play-by-play broadcaster and or as an analyst after his time at GVSU. Graduating Winter 2024 Major: Multimedia Journalism