By Dustin Livesay
When junior Jessie Gerig received the news that a new setter would be joining the Youngstown State University Volleyball team she instantly went into competition mode — what she didn’t realize is that she wouldn’t only be gaining a competitor, but a best friend as well.
“Without even knowing her, just hearing she is a setter, competing with her is all I thought. Then once she got here, it changed and we are really good friends. We can talk about anything,” Gerig said. “I wasn’t really planning on being best friends with her, but when she got here, we immediately connected and we are like the same person.”
According to Coach Mark Hardaway, acquiring Val Jeffery was just being in the right place at the right time. When Hardaway was contacted about a transfer, he wasn’t interested.
“We felt Jessie Gerig could run our offense and Heather Splinter was coming in and we felt she could be back-up … like I said, we weren’t really looking for a setter,” Hardaway said.
Once Hardaway heard Jeffery was the athlete in question, he changed his opinion.
“I saw Val play in club and she was really good,” he said. “I really thought she was capable of playing in the MAC or SEC, I just thought she was really good.”
Jeffery originally committed to High Point University in North Carolina, but transferred after one season. When Jeffery arrived for practice everybody was welcoming — as if she had been there at YSU all along.
“When I came into the locker room the first day everyone was really nice; they were really cool,” Jeffery said. “They took me in like another sister which was awesome.”
Hardaway feels that Jeffery is willing to learn which makes her easy to coach.
“I think that she is very serious about winning. She is just a really good person, she is a Christian kid and I know that academic part of her life is very important,” Hardaway said. “She is everything you want in a Division I student athlete.”
According to Hardaway, Jeffery has improved the work ethic of the other players on his team as well.
“Most important for us this year is that the setting position is the most competitive position on the team — it would be like having two quarterbacks that were both really good,” Hardaway said. “Preseason was a huge battle between Val and Jessie.”
Jeffery was given the starting position. Hardaway said Jeffery and Gerig didn’t allow their competitive nature to affect their friendship.
“As much as I know Val wanted to start, I don’t think she wanted to have to beat out someone she was really close to,” Hardaway said. “For Jessie she was happy for Val as a friend, but obviously disappointed because she is a very competitive athlete.”
Jeffery and Gerig have built a connection that continues off the court. While the girls are best friends on the team, their faith and religious belief helped further their friendship. For Gerig, the memory she cherishes the most with Jeffery happened in the water instead of on the hardwood.
“My most favorite moment with Val is when we both got baptized at Crossroads Church together,” Gerig said. “You only get baptized once and I will be able to share that moment with her for the rest of my life. “
Jeffery looks forward to continuing her college career at YSU.
“I honestly don’t know what I would do without volleyball,” Jeffery said. “I just love playing the sport. I love winning and hate losing.”