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Taylor Eldridge | Wichita Eagle | September 11, 2018

NCAA volleyball: With determination, Jordan Roberts has become key for Wichita State this season

Jordan Roberts (right) reacts during a match against Creighton this season.

Every handful of years there comes along a player whose story coach Chris Lamb knows he'll be telling future Wichita State volleyball players.

Jordan Roberts has become that story this season for the Shockers.

Her story is one of perseverance and determination. It's about how one can overcome physical limitations with dedication, preparation and sheer will.

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The story is just getting started, but Lamb already knows he'll be telling the story of how Roberts went from just a name on the roster the past three years to an integral part of Wichita State's 4-2 start to this season.

"Those are the great stories," Lamb said. "When her career is over, I have no doubt in my mind that we will know she gave this program everything she's got. Because that's what she always does, give her everything."

Three years of waiting.

Roberts was unaccustomed to waiting before she arrived to Wichita State.

She had just concluded a standout prep career at Calallen, a Conference 5A program in Texas, where she compiled 4,271 career assists and was named all-South Texas Setter of the Year three consecutive years.

But when she came to WSU in 2015, it was during the rise of Emily Hiebert, who just wrapped up a stellar career last fall.

"I knew coming to Wichita State was going to be hard, and I was going to have to fight for it," Roberts said. "But it was really hard, just because I'm such a competitor. I would go in early before every practice hoping that some day I was going to get an opportunity, but I never really knew for sure."

Being behind Hiebert for three years could have been a blessing or a curse. After taking a redshirt year, Roberts made sure to turn the next two years into a blessing.

Roberts, who is 5 feet, 10 inches, realized she was never going to have the height or athleticism of Hiebert (6-0), so it would be foolish to try to replicate her playing style. Instead, Roberts studied the way Hiebert conducted herself on the court -- something Roberts could duplicate.

"It was the way she held herself out on the court," Roberts said. "She was the same no matter what was happening. She was that steady presence. People looked to her and wanted her to be the one to deliver the balls and keep pushing the team. Honestly, she was the best example of a setter to be behind, and I'm so glad I had those years to learn from her."

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"Jordan always had the most positive attitude with whatever was thrown at her," Hiebert said. "She was always one of the hardest workers on the team. I really believe she can handle anything because she's not just a great leader, but she's one of the best people that I know."

In those three years, where she had 12 total assists in 15 sets played, Roberts did all the right things.

She impressed coaches by showing up early to practice to work on her game, even though she had no road map to playing time. She impressed her teammates with her constant positivity and enthusiasm. And Roberts, a biological sciences major, was named to the athletic director's honor roll the last three years.

"Setting behind Emily Hiebert, there's not much you can do," WSU junior Alex Koon said. "But Jordan never stopped working hard and never stopped getting better. Now it's her time, and she's ready for it."

The stars all line up.

It became evident to Lamb as early as this spring that WSU would have to turn to a 6-2 rotation for the first time in a decade.

He figured the rotation at setter would likely be Kali Eaken, a transfer senior who had experience at Louisville, and Kora Kauling, a promising 6-2 redshirt freshman.

But Roberts left Lamb no option with her work in practice. After so many years of waiting, Roberts had earned her chance to play.

"Some girls know if they play great they're going to start, then there are other girls who wonder if they'll ever start," Lamb said. "Jordan is one of the girls for a few years would leave practice wondering, then one day the stars all lined up and the system that's right for our team has got her name on it."

In WSU's first six matches, Roberts has 65 assists in 16 sets with four service aces.

In her first full match, Roberts responded with a double-double of 23 assists and 12 digs, both career-highs, on the road against a VCU team that finished 30-3 last season and returned five starters.

"We all knew how amazing Jordan was, and now it's so cool to see everyone else finally realize how amazing she is too," Koon said.

Roberts has developed a rapport with middle Emma Wright, as the quick set to Wright in transition has become an early-season staple for Roberts. More than a third of Roberts' assists (24 of 65, to be exact) are a result of the play.

"In terms of running the system, you can tell she's the one that's been here the longest," Lamb said. "When she's out there, more of that stuff is actually happening. She's giving us good chances by playing the way that this team should play."

Even though Roberts has been waiting for this chance doesn't mean it hasn't come without nerves, especially when WSU has two other capable setters.

"Initially I was so nervous about feeling like I had to be perfect and I couldn't mess up or else I would get pulled and the other setter would go in," Roberts said. "But as I've got more reps, I've got more confidence now."

While Eaken has the edge in experience and Kauling has the edge in physical tools, Roberts has proven her worth against high-major opponents like Stanford, BYU and West Virginia.

"What has been a refreshing reminder for me is how bulletproof she really is," Lamb said. "She gets slapped in the face a lot because she may not be talented enough, can't get up high enough to set a high, tight pass, not fast enough to get to a ball.

Those things show up when the bullets start flying, but Jordan is an expert of resiliency. She never lets anything get to her and she's always moving on. I love that about her." 

This article is written by Taylor Eldridge from The Wichita Eagle and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.