There are stories of great athletes who began playing their respective sport when they were just eight years old, who have had their whole lives to learn the game and refine their skills.
This was not the case with Roni Jones-Perry.
Initially involved in gymnastics, Jones-Perry has developed into one of the best collegiate volleyball players in the nation. Everything that she has achieved in her volleyball career and in her life is due to the determination that she has to succeed.
“I remember that it was a joke on my gymnastics team that none of us would ever be good at any sport because it just wasn’t a thing; like we don’t do that,” shared Jones-Perry, who was named an AVCA Third Team All-American at the end of the 2017 BYU women’s volleyball season.
When Jones-Perry was 11 years old, her mother was laid off, forcing Jones-Perry to quit her gymnastics team to which she had dedicated so much time and effort.
Jones-Perry’s younger sister, Sami, still remembers the day that she had to pack up her leotards and her trophies.
“When she wants to do something she puts all her effort into it,” Sami said. “So when she couldn’t do it anymore it was like the end of the world.”
Jones-Perry initially followed her two sisters to the sport of softball where her father had the opportunity to coach her. She did well, but when one of her mother’s co-workers mentioned that gymnasts make good volleyball players, Jones-Perry tried it out.
Although she was nervous at first, she fell more in love with the game as she continued to play. She dedicated herself to the Copper Hills High School team and to her club team.
As Jones-Perry reached the age where colleges could begin recruiting her, a lot of smaller colleges expressed interest.
She was soon approached by her club coach who told her he didn’t think she’d be able to make it to the Division I level and suggested she should settle on one of the smaller schools that were looking at her.
The next summer, Jones-Perry dedicated herself to the gym and to getting better physically, which, as her father recalled, resulted in her increasing her vertical by several inches.
“She persevered and, in a way, that coach did her a favor by inspiring her to do that,” said her father, Robert.
Jones-Perry’s hard work paid off as BYU and the University of Utah both had their eyes on her. However, she didn’t exactly have her eyes on BYU at first.
“I’m not LDS, so growing up in Utah, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to BYU,’” Jones-Perry shared. “During the recruiting process I emailed every school in the state pretty much except BYU.”
But after consulting with her parents on what to do, Jones-Perry decided to be open-minded on what BYU had to offer as the Cougar coaching staff continued to pursue her.
“We used to joke about it because we’re non-members and people would say to us, ‘You watch, she’s going to end up at BYU,’” Debra says. “And we would always say, ‘No, there’s no way. We would instantly be set on fire when we stepped on campus.’ Then she comes to me and says, ‘Mom, BYU’s looking at me and they want me to go on a visit,’ so I said, ‘Well, go check it out.’”
Jones-Perry said that when she would walk around campus, it just felt like this was the place that she needed be. The more she visited and the more she talked to the coaches, the better she felt about committing.
“The way Roni works, she couldn’t have picked a better school and I knew that the day she picked it,” Sami said. “There aren’t distractions like partying, staying out too late, or having teammates show up to practice hung over; it’s just not an option at BYU. That’s why they create such great athletes, because they all have the same goals: school and volleyball.”
One thing that Jones-Perry noticed about BYU was the emphasis the university has on family life, which was appealing to her because of how close she is with her family.
It isn’t hard to notice the love and support that they all have for one another. Her family members constantly make an effort to come to her matches. Sami, who is playing volleyball herself at the University of Saint Katherine in San Marcos, California, even gets her team to watch her sister’s games as well.
“The first time I heard her name announced as a starter, I was pretty overwhelmed,” Robert said. “I would have never dreamed 15 years ago that I would be doing something like this with one of my kids. It’s been crazy for us; we’re very proud.”
Jones-Perry has improved every year she has played at BYU. Her freshman season she collected 171 kills and totaled 189 points. As she has continued to train and sharpen her mental focus, Jones-Perry increased those statistics, leaving her junior season with 569 kills and totaling 655 points that fall.
“Her volleyball has grown so much and she just keeps growing,” said her husband, Todd. “It’s almost scary how fast she has grown.”
A highlight for Jones-Perry came playing against Oregon in the NCAA Tournament. Jones-Perry totaled 27 kills and a .535 hitting clip, helping her team advance to the Sweet Sixteen in three-straight sets.
“I think that was one of the most twilight moment games I’ve ever played in,” she said. “The whole team was playing lights out. Oregon played well and we just shut them down.”
Jones-Perry has grown not only as a volleyball player, but also as a person. Her family noted that she has become a better leader and with that her confidence has increased.
“BYU has built her character a lot,” Sami said. “In these past three years she has grown tremendously as a leader.”
Todd has also been able to see this transformation. They began dating in high school and have now been married for over two years now. “It’s crazy in my eyes to see how far she’s come, just because I’ve been there from high school and on,” Todd said.
Jones-Perry plans to continue her volleyball career professionally overseas when her playing days at BYU are done.
“She sees her goals, she chases her goals, and she’s humble about it,” Robert said. “She’s the person that most people try to be, and a lot of people, even as adults, don’t reach it.”