Gwyn Jones comes to Marquette after upbringing as goat farmer

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When Gwyn Jones was in high school, she wasn’t able to join her teammates at the mall or the movies on weekends off from volleyball. Instead, she had to go right home after practice or games.

“My dad would be like, ‘OK, you have to come help me with the goats,'” Jones said. “There’s, like, 200 goats, and then we have 15 cattle and some pigs. … I don’t think a lot of people know I’m from a goat farm.”

Before Jones played a minute of collegiate volleyball, she put in work on her family’s goat farm.

Marquette head coach Ryan Theis traveled to Indiana to visit Jones’ home during spring break last year, even though she wasn’t able to be there.

“It was awesome,” Theis said. “I had never been on (a goat farm), but to learn how that process works was great.”

Jones’ parents were equally thrilled for Theis’s arrival.

“My parents were super excited. My dad made steaks,” Jones said. “It was really cool to know Ryan was so invested, and he wanted to meet my family and see what made me, me.”

Since the Jones family raises meat goats, they don’t name them, despite this being a common practice in a youth development organization called 4-H.

“I was in 4-H for a lot of years,” Jones said. “When you’re in 4-H, you name (the goats) and you show them. We would have reserved champions (and) grand champions. … Once you get up to 200 or 300 of them, you can’t really keep track even if they do have a name.”

Farming is not exclusive to Jones, her parents and her brother. The members of her father’s whole side of the family are corn farmers in Iowa.

Jones said being from a goat farm has developed her work ethic, and the 6-foot-3 middle blocker’s athletic family has reinforced that skill. Her father Paul played football at Eastern Kentucky University. Her mom Jill and her aunt Mary Jones Buczek played volleyball at University of Kentucky together.

Jones’ aunt went into coaching as the assistant for the University of Florida and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and was the head coach at Wake Forest University from 1995-2000 and the University of Georgia from 2000-2005.

Though Theis tried to recruit Jones when she was in high school, she had no interest at the time. She ended up committing to University of Auburn, a Southeastern Conference school.

“I played in the SEC, which is really cool to play on the court that (my mom and aunt) used to play on,” Jones said.

Jones had a decorated career at Auburn, which included being a 2016 SEC All-Freshman Team honoree and amassing 807 kills and 164 blocks while in blue and orange.

“She was a captain on Auburn because of her personality and her drive,” Theis said.

Jones said she decided to transfer once she realized she was going to graduate in three years from Auburn’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business with a degree in marketing.

“When I knew I was going to graduate, I put myself in the (NCAA Transfer) Portal,” Jones said. “I hadn’t thought about coming up north because I’m not used to cold weather. But when you put your name in the Portal, anyone can contact you.”

Theis expressed interest and emailed Jones in December when she was in the Portal. Since the middle blocker had been following Marquette in its historic 2018 NCAA Tournament run, she said she was “immediately interested.”

Now she is in a corporate communication masters program in the College of Communication’s graduate school.

While her teammates miss classes for traveling, graduate school has helped her better balance being a student-athlete. Jones only has class twice a week, and she can get it done on her laptop during travel.

“They make fun of me because I have a lot of classes online,” Jones said. “A lot of times I have more free time than them, and I’ll take them to the mall or anywhere they need to go.”

This is Theis’s second time working with a graduate transfer, the first being when he was at Ohio University. Since Jones is a graduate transfer, she only gets to compete as a Golden Eagle this fall.

“That’s the part that’s a bummer,” Theis said. “You can’t change habits and techniques and then go play a game. It just doesn’t work that way. Growth requires a hilly path. … There’s 15 things you want to change on her, but you’ve got her three-and-a-half months, and that’s just not going to happen.”

Jones views it as a chance to “bring a new perspective.”

“I’m always willing to get in the gym with people,” Jones said. “I’m very positive, and so I tell Ryan, ‘I don’t have as much class so if there’s any time a player is upset and you can see it, you just tell me because I have nothing better to do. I will take them to get ice cream. If they want to serve, if they want to do a lesson, I’ll do everything.'”

Despite the short amount of time Jones is on the team, she said the other players have been extremely welcoming. Theis and Jones attribute part of that acceptance to her ability to practice two weeks before the team’s Foreign Tour.

“We were in this confined environment twice a day having practice where they didn’t really have a choice but to get to know me,” Jones said.

She couldn’t play during the foreign tour as she completed the rest of her online credits, so she used it as a chance to learn Theis’ system.

“My job was just to learn as much as I could about the systems, what we run, what we do,” Jones said. “We played some tough matches out there, so I was just the number one supporter.”

She did a lesson Monday on working in front of the setter and getting more space when she attacks in the front, which she did not do as mainly a right side hitter at Auburn. Jones has taken over Jenna Rosenthal’s role at middle.

“We needed a slide hitter for sure based on the style of offense we’re running,” Theis said. “She was always a slide hitter, so that was a natural fit for her.”

Theis said one thing most people do not know about Jones is that she is extremely sarcastic. Theis said she always teases him about his “groutfits,” which are all-gray outfits.

“We always get this gray gear, and our coaches have a habit of matching gray on gray on gray, so I like to poke at him for that a little bit,” Jones said.

“Some days I’ll come in and I’ll go, ‘Gwyn, I wore this and this because I knew you were going to be judging me,'” Theis said.

During Monday’s practice, Theis said he told the scorekeeper that he was pretty sure Jones was the one who had a net violation.

“She had some sarcastic response back, it was something along the lines of, ‘There’s no way it could have been me, it must have been Sandy (Mohr),'” Theis said. “Based on her response and her tone, I said, ‘Now I officially know it was you,’ because it was such a blatant boldface lie that I knew she was lying.”

Although Theis said he wishes he had more time with Jones, he said he has already seen growth since she started learning the middle block moves.

“The first day they were totally new to her, and now they’re routine,” Theis said.

Already this season, Jones has started in all 16 matches, is fourth in kills on the team with 86 and has recorded 24 digs and four service aces. She is second on the team in blocks with 36.

While she is still six-and-a-half hours away from her family and goats, her family has gone to see plenty of her games this year.

“Especially this being my senior year, so many people have unexpectedly just wanted to make trips and see me play,” Jones said. “When there’s things that people don’t agree on personally, politically, whatever it may be, one thing they agree on is sitting in front of the TV and watching me playing volleyball.”

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