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Marquette women’s volleyball: Jones meets family standards

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Senior outside hitter Ciara Jones (No. 1) is not only a vocal leader but she also leads by example. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/aaron.ledesma@marquette.edu

Growing up in a family that included an NFL linebacker for a father, a future NFL safety as a cousin and two brothers who would play Division I football, senior outside hitter Ciara Jones had no choice but to love sports.

It turns out she’s pretty good at playing them, too.

Thanks to thunderous attacks, undeniable leadership and ultimate persistence, Jones is helping lead Marquette to a potential Big East championship and NCAA Tournament berth in 2011.

But volleyball was not always her sport.

Before she reached middle school, Jones had the athletic resume expected of a former NFL player’s daughter. Her athleticism was undeniable as she excelled in gymnastics, competitive cheerleading, track and field and basketball. But she still hadn’t found her niche.

It was then that her sixth grade physical education teacher suggested volleyball to Jones. She reluctantly accepted the offer to try her fourth sport.

Jones never looked back.

After a successful high school career, the Orlando, Fla., native had a decision to make: Stay close to home and attend South Florida or go with Marquette, where frigid temperatures, snow and an unknown campus awaited her.

A scholarship offer from Marquette and persuasion from her father and Marquette basketball legend Doc Rivers led her to Milwaukee.

She struggled to find playing time her first two seasons, but Jones said the values of persistence and hard work her father had instilled in her paid off.

“Once I started to understand that this is what they want from me, this is what I have to give them to be on the court, I just never gave up,” Jones said. “I wanted to be out there and I always knew I could be a key player and I wanted to be, and that’s why I worked so hard.”

When current coach Bond Shymansky was hired in December 2008, Jones was scared she wouldn’t fit into the new coach’s system.

Initially Shymansky didn’t think Jones would make it. He labeled her as a “one jump chump” due to her inconsistent play.

But her junior year she helped the Golden Eagles to a 23-9 record and finished second on the team in kills (379). Her transformation impressed Shymansky.

“It took a lot of creativity and foresight on her part and our part to believe that we were going to get there,” Shymansky said. “But now that we’re there, she’s an extreme point of pride for the coaching staff.”

Aside from leading the team in kills (176) and ranking eighth in the Big East in points this year (182), the senior captain has expanded her role as a leader.

Redshirt junior right side Holly Mertens said Jones had always been a vocal leader, but her play now speaks too.

“She’s someone we can lean on now and we know she’s going to get a kill for us,” Mertens said. “Now she puts the team on her shoulders.”

With the volleyball team and a family legacy on her shoulders, Jones doesn’t have much more room for anything else. But if one thing has been made clear, it’s that she has made a name for herself in the Jones family.

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