By Stacey Kilpatrick
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Last weekend in Jacksonville University volleyball’s 3-1 win over North Florida, senior Kendall Courtney became the Atlantic Sun career leader in service aces with 154, after coming into the season ranked sixth in the record book after her junior year. But this isn’t Courtney’s first accolade; she has put herself in the conference record book on eight total occasions (full list below). That includes her career assists total of 4,247 that places her fourth in league history entering this weekend’s action, and her 703 assists in A-Sun matches in 2012 that is 10th all-time for a single conference season.
Currently, Courtney leads the A-Sun in aces per set, averaging 0.39. That figure also is good for 50th in the nation.
“As a freshman they actually meant a lot more to me and I realized that kind of focusing on myself wasn’t really getting me anywhere,” Courtney said. “So these past two years I’ve tried to focus more on my hitters rather than myself and I think that’s actually helped me more, focusing on making their stats better and make my stats better actually.
“I mean of course it’s always nice to break records and have good stats, so that’s been exciting this season, but I couldn’t do it without my hitters or my passers.”
Courtney earned her eighth record on JU’s ninth point against UNF with an ace.
“I remember [Marcela Oliveria], who calls the serves, started out with a short serve because she was trying to get the ace on the first point. We were really excited. Some of the girls knew and it was an exciting moment.”
Head Coach Michelle Collier said that it’s a huge accomplishment for Courtney. “She has been one of our most consistent servers. She’s usually one of my first servers because I feel very confident that she’s going to put the other team under stress and we’re going to start the match putting them in a pressure situation.
“She can serve anywhere on the court and … we’re usually trying to match her up on how we want to attack that other team with our serve. It’s a huge accomplishment for her, she deserves it, she works hard in practice to get better with her serving and the results have shown.”
ACE-ING THIS WEEKEND
Rolling off of last Friday's win over UNF to continue on a six-match win streak, the Dolphins will compete against A-Sun leaders East Tennessee State (13-6, 7-0 A-Sun) and USC Upstate (2-15, 2-6 A-Sun) this Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“[ETSU has] some really big hitters and good blocking, so we’re going to have to really step up our defense,” Courtney said. “We’ve been practicing for that the past two weeks just focusing on that. The hitters also need to hit smart and I need to make good decisions on setting to get them one-on-one. It’ll be a fun game.”
Collier agreed that the Dolphins will have to bring their A-game this weekend, citing that ETSU – entering on a nine-match win streak – is a great team that is playing with consistency. Many of the players have competed with one another for a while, Collier stated, so they know how to win.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but at the same time we also know how to win. We have played well, we have worked hard, we’re watching some of the videos in the office to try to get ready for them in practice, but a lot of this match is going to be how we handle our side, how we play with confidence and how we execute the things we’ve been doing well. We will have some fun on our home court.”
USC Upstate struggled early in the season, but they’ve played with confidence to this point in conference play, Collier said, taking Florida Gulf Coast to five sets last Friday. The Spartans and Dolphins went 1-1 against each other last year, and JU won’t be looking past anyone.
“There’s no difference. We’re preparing for every opponent the same way, we’re taking every match the same way, every match is like a championship match,” Collier said. “It’s one step at a time and I think it doesn’t matter if you beat ETSU or if you beat Upstate or if you lose to ESTU or Upstate – a win is a win and a loss is a loss in conference.
“We’re trying to prepare as much as we can for them. We’re not going to take them lightly. I know they’re going to come ready to play ... and we’re going to have to be prepared for them as well.”
ALL ABOUT THE ASSISTS
Since Courtney began as a freshman in 2010, she’s built a great relationship with her teammates, especially the two other seniors, Kylie Jacob and Alyssa Robertson, as well as redshirt junior Taylor Nyquist.
“I think that’s actually been one of the key factors of this successful season is just my relationship with them, especially the hitters. Just having the middles and having played with them for now four years I can anticipate what they’re going to do and they know what I’m going to do and we have this trust, like I know they’re going to be there for me so I don’t have to be hesitant in setting them. I can go to them when I need to and that’s been really key this year.”
In warm-ups, the team sometimes plays what they call tennis. Two balls are moving at once, three players are on the court, you pass the ball over and “basically you try to get the other side to mess up.” There’s some strategy, Courtney said, but it’s more of a fun, competitive game to get the team moving.
“Whoever wins gets to make up a punishment for the other team. We’ve had some pretty interesting punishments – some dance moves, some piggyback races, just crazy stuff like that,” Courtney said. Best dancer? “Probably Alyssa or Gabby [Gabriela Roman].”
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
The team’s camaraderie and hard work has clearly paid off, as the Dolphins have won their last six matches and six of seven A-Sun games.
“It’s rewarding because we’ve really worked so hard, the seniors and just the other girls from last year. And it’s been kind of disappointing because I felt like we worked hard all four years, but it just hasn’t really shown.
“It’s just so nice that its finally come together this last year and it does mean a lot because we're all working hard for each other. The team chemistry is great [and] it’s just a great atmosphere to be in and it’s so fun.”
ATTACKING THE REST OF HER CAREER
Courtney said she wants the team to focus on finishing the remainder of conference play like the Dolphins started it.
“I don’t want us to get complacent with how we’ve been playing and lose focus. We need to work on finishing strong and making it to the conference tournament. Once we get to the conference tournament I think we have a serious shot at taking the whole thing.”
One thought that has stuck with Courtney has been Coach Collier saying, “You’re going to miss it when you’re done.”
“I know they [the coaches] miss it like crazy and so I try and put everything I have into practice and games because I have one season left, so I might as well give it my all because soon I’m going to be like them, my college career is going to be over, and I’m going to be missing it.”
A great way to end her Jacksonville career and this historic season would be to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament, although Courtney said the team is focusing on one thing at a time.
“This year we’re trying to take things one thing at a time, focus on each game as it comes. But I would celebrate like crazy if we made it to the NCAA. I don’t know what I’d do, but it’d probably be one of the best days of my life.
“I’m just grateful for a great last year. Michelle’s done a lot of good things and the girls have been working really hard and it just means a lot as a senior to be able to go out with a bang.”
COACH COLLIER'S WORDS
“Kendall is a great player to coach,” Collier said. “She understands the game a lot, she grew up playing it and she’s the type of kid that understands her role, understands the whole game, and what we need to do [and] how we need to do it. She’s definitely a unique player. She has been a great part of this program and she has helped us reach another level.
“But first and foremost she’s just a hard worker. She’s the hardest worker I have ever coached. She’s never sore, never hurt, has never gone 50 percent in practice. She’s a kid that goes all out, loves to play, loves to compete, and definitely a leader by example and a big part of our success. I don’t know what we’re going to do without her.”
KENDALL COURTNEY RECORDS IN THE A-SUN RECORD BOOK
- First in career aces (154)
- Fourth in career assists (4,247)
- Tenth in single-season conference-only assists in 2012 (703)
- Led A-Sun in assists in 2011 (1,222)
- Led A-Sun in double-doubles in a season in 2011 (22)
- Led A-Sun in conference-only double-doubles in a season in 2011 (11)
- Led A-Sun in aces in 2010 (50)
- Led A-Sun in aces avg (a/g) in 2010 (.45)
KENDALL COURTNEY HONORS IN THE A-SUN RECORD BOOK
- 2012 and 2011 Academic All-Conference