In December, Minnesota's volleyball team completed its most successful season in program history by winning its first Big Ten title and reaching the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Less than six months later, the team is already getting better.
The Gophers added a building block to their solid foundation earlier this month when Jess Jones became the first recruit to verbally commit to Minnesota for the 2004 season.
Jones, a 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker from Neuqua Valley, Ill., chose Minnesota over Nebraska and Notre Dame after making a visit to Minneapolis in late April. She was impressed by the team chemistry the Gophers displayed and on May 5 verbally committed to play volleyball at the University.
"I'd talked to other coaches and visited other schools and I never really felt comfortable," Jones said. "But with (Minnesota players) it was different."
Per NCAA rules, college
coaches are prohibited from commenting on recruits until a national letter of intent is signed.
Jones, who is ranked by prepvolleyball.com as one of the top 85 recruits in the country, plays for both Neuqua Valley High School and the Sunsetters Volleyball Club in Woodridge, Ill. She was also named as an alternate to the Junior National team.
In her junior season at Neuqua Valley, Jones racked up 222 kills with a .333 hitting efficiency. But despite being an accomplished hitter, blocking is Jones' passion. She totaled 115 blocks and was named to her second straight all-conference team.
"Hitting is a big part of the game, but I love blocking," Jones said. "There's something about it that I just can't wait for. Something that I can't get enough of."
But even with all her athletic ability, Jones couldn't avoid a recent setback on the court.
While playing in a club match three weeks ago, she landed awkwardly and partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
She is planning on having surgery in the near future and hopes to be back in time for her senior season at Neuqua Valley this fall. Jones' doctor said the best-case-scenario would be approximately a three month recovery.
"My whole summer is dedicated to healing," Jones said.
Jones and her coaches are confident she'll make a complete recovery and hit her stride again in time to contribute her senior year.
"As a junior she really came on," Neuqua Valley coach Kelly Simon said. "She's our go-to hitter, a tremendous blocker and she's just on the way to reaching her potential."
Minnesota coaches will be anticipating that potential until 2004 and are glad Jones made the decision to become a Gopher.
"Everyone was just telling me to wait for that gut feeling (when making a decision about college)," Jones said. "I got it at Minnesota and then it was an easy decision."
Brett Angel welcomes comments at
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