Southern Oregon University Athletics. Photo Credit Al Case, https://traveljapanblog.com/ashland/tag/volleyball/
Honoring the end of the Raider volleyball season, The Siskiyou sat down with two volleyball players for an interview about the season and looking forward to the 2022 season. Both interviews gave insight into the Raider volleyball program culture, the ins and outs of practices, and the work ethic both Gwen Sheldon and Kadyn Jones take away from the program.
Interview with Kadyn Jones
Kadyn, a senior from Troutdale, OR, just finished her last career game for the Raiders. In her athlete career, Kadyn had a total of 1,150 digs. Her last game against Warner Pacific was her 90th career win as an SOU Raider. In that time, she contributed to two regular-season conference championships and tournament championships. Kadyn was also a part of the two Raider squads that made an appearance at the NAIA National Championships.
Kadyn first attended Southwestern College before deciding that Southwestern wasn’t the right fit. It didn’t take long for Kadyn to reconnect with head coach Josh Rohlfing and find herself at home in Ashland. Because of COVID and eligibility rules, Kadyn graduated last year with a degree in environmental science and policy. She also had two concentrations in chemistry and biology. Kadyn mentioned, “I wanted to do something more in touch with the world and our society…it’s so important that people are educated about the world and the environment around them because we are connected to it… I wanted to learn more about that and then potentially teach about it.” However, her journey to college athletics started at a young age.
The idea of being a collegiate athlete was always present growing up for Kadyn. Both her parents played sports throughout high school and some college. Kadyn’s mom played college volleyball; growing up, when Kadyn was younger, her mom’s old college coach even coached her. For Kadyn, “it was a dream of [hers] since middle school to play in college.” When asked about a specific moment where she knew she wanted to continue after high school, she explained, “I just remember there being moments where I was like ‘yeah, I love this sport.’” She even added, “the level just changed from being just an extracurricular activity to something bigger. And I remember those moments on the court, during games, feeling that and it would just give me goosebumps.”
Taking the time to reflect on her career, Kadyn talked about a few of her favorite memories from SOU. From the volleyball perspective, she mentioned, “it was [a time] when we played Eastern Oregon and they had already beat us when we were at home. So it was our big travel weekend to go play them. They’ve always been kind of a rival within the teams that I’ve been a part of just because they’ve been really good…so it was a really big game and we won in the fifth set… we all were playing so hard at the level we knew how to play. I think it was probably the best volleyball I’ve played and against the best volleyball I’ve played against in my whole career.”
Another moment that Kadyn talked about was her time going to nationals that same year. “That year was like when I made all of my greatest friends… that entire trip just bonds teammates in a way that, like some other games and travel experiences, doesn’t. [we’re] there for a week and a half or a week, just dedicated to volleyball and just dedicated to this goal. And that was a really great experience to be a part of too.”
In terms of learning from her career, there are a few lessons and challenges that Kadyn learned from along the way. One challenge that she and the team faced was almost two full years with no true competition season. Kadyn said, “because of COVID we opted out of the spring season last year, and then it had been close to two years of training and trying to meet the standards that the volleyball team creates without results… and our program pushes it being about the process and not the result.” So, for Kadyn, the challenge was making the right mental shift as they trained daily and over their breaks. One of the few lessons Kadyn learned from being at SOU and a part of the volleyball program is that “you can care and be committed to multiple things.” Kadyn voiced, “I’ve always cared about my grades and my education. And I’ve always put volleyball above that. And there were sometimes where I had to look at it like where I wanted to go in life and who I wanted to be. And sometimes that meant my education came first…it’s a really hard balance to figure out within yourself, like time management… So, I think that the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can be committed to multiple things and learn to balance that commitment between the two.”
Another key lesson Kadyn took away from SOU was “how you do anything is how you do everything.” Kadyn did exactly that as a leader for the SOU volleyball program this year.
As for the different roles Kadyn has had over her career, she originally came in as a center, then she went back and forth between a setter and defensive specialist. Then, “last year, I was libero and defensive specialist which are kind of the same thing… this last year I was one of the only people returning… so my role really was like a big leader on the team. Helping people know what the standard was on our team and getting everyone to understand the importance of community, working hard, and practicing gratitude” were a few of the things Kadyn took on in her role this year.
In the future, Kadyn also has plans to be a volleyball coach and to give back to her community. When asked about advice for future athletes and incoming freshmen into an athletic program, Kadyn mentioned a few great things. Kadyn said, for the younger girls playing out there, “stay connected to why you love the game… I think that if you know the reasons why you are playing, every day you remember why you love it and strive to show that you love it, you are going to excel purely because you love the game.” For all the incoming freshmen out there, Kadyn’s advice is this, “watch and learn. Watch the people that are older and have been there, ask them questions, see how they do things, and then try to do it better or as good as what they’re doing.”
Technically, Kadyn’s volleyball career ended, but her competitive and adventurous spirit is sticking around for life. She’s already coached a few times and plans to come back to coaching in the near future, but for now, Kadyn has some travel plans for this upcoming year. She has plans this May to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with her mom, and she’s in the works of booking a trip to Ireland.
S: If you could be any animal in the world, what would it be and why?
K: So easy, a sea otter because they just seem so playful in the moment and they just do their thing with their favorite little rock.
Interview with Gwen Sheldon
Another influential voice The Siskiyou listened to was Gwen Sheldon. Gwen, a junior from Loveland, CO, is a setter on the court, but in the classroom she’s is a communications major. She is also pursuing an emphasis in digital media. Gwen mentioned her major choice, “I know that I wanted to do something that put me in a position where I could be in contact with a lot of people every day.” She came to this conclusion after being an education major at her previous school, Laramie County Community College, but she realized that she liked the communication aspect of teaching more so than being an educator. One of the fun things about Gwen is that she is a plant-lover and really enjoys time out in nature.
Gwen was deciding between two schools, SOU and the University of Wyoming, when she flew out to Ashland to see what it was all about. When Gwen looks back on what made her pick SOU, she reminisced, “when I came out here I just felt so welcomed by everyone, and Josh, my coach, was so open and amazing…It just felt like I was accepted into the group.” She even loved the beauty and atmosphere of campus, even though it was February and Valentine’s Day when she visited. Eventually, Gwen decided and transferred to SOU to further her athletic career, which dates back to elementary school.
Gwen started playing volleyball in the second grade. Being from a little bit of a small town, she was fortunate enough to have a volleyball team at the elementary school level. But the inspiration to pursue college athletics came from her family. Both her parents were swimmers, and her brother and sister swam throughout high school and were both very successful with it. Her sister even went on to swim in college. So, as Gwen said, “my family has been athletes.” The moment that inspired her to take on a college career path was after she had watched her sister compete at the University of Wyoming for swim. It was something that Gwen simply described as, “Oh, I want to do that. I want to be a part of something bigger. And I knew that when volleyball was over my senior year of high school, I didn’t want to be done.” There was another moment along the way that kept her drive alive in the recruiting process, and that was when she went to a recruiting camp. “I had a really good first day, and I played pretty well. And I remember my second day when the college coach asked me if I’d play with the college team at the end of the night… and I was the only person that he asked… then, all the little nine years old were like ‘oh my God, she’s in our camp and now she’s playing on the team’… so knowing that I could be an inspiration to younger girls is kind of what sold me to pursue athletics,” Gwen said in the interview. Gwen also played basketball and softball, but it was volleyball that stuck around and the one sport she had the most fun with, which she still does as a setter for the SOU program.
As for roles, Gwen works hard to set the offense up for success. She was also one of the three captains. On the court, her focus is to distribute the ball and set up the outside hitters for success. One of the other things that Gwen helps with is accountability. As she mentioned, “our team is really good about holding each other accountable and having a common goal. [Myself] and the other two captions, we all just tried to push each other and push the team to the best place that we could be at and to uphold standards [of the program].” Another lesson Gwen has learned through volleyball is the importance of character. One thing Gwen said about the program was, “I think that the most important thing that SOU volleyball has taught me is specifically about character…our standards on the team are just so strong. And they are so rooted in being your best… and always giving more than you are taking.” For Gwen, it’s about gratefulness and learning that’s something that she finds super important. Part of the accountability aspect is translated off the court for Gwen.
One of the biggest lessons Gwen has learned as a student-athlete and with the student-athlete, life has been time management and the ability to multitask. Another key component she learned, as well as the team, was resiliency. Gwen recounted, “[being a student-athlete] really teaches me resiliency in a lot of ways, especially through our COVID year… Our whole team had to be so flexible like whether we were in the gym or outside, masks or no masks, and how many people could be in there… so that honestly taught a lot of resiliency.”
Gwen answered the next question fairly quickly because it is one she thinks about all the time: “what advice would you give to younger volleyball players, and what advice would you give to incoming freshmen?” Gwen responded with, “I would say to my younger self… and to younger girls to just keep your options open. Don’t tunnel vision yourself into ‘I’m only going if I can go to this school in this place and in this area. So many girls see the big D1 programs and they’re so focused on getting there when you can have an absolutely amazing experience at an NAIA school or JUCO school… going to a JUCO was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.” On the topic of incoming freshman, Gwen’s advice was “be ready to dedicate yourself, and don’t be scared to ask for help when you need it.”
Looking forward to next season, the women Raiders will have 17 returning players, with Gwen being one of then. With some time to reflect on the season and thinking of the off-season, Gwen commented, “looking back on this season, there was a lot of growth. We were definitely a different team than what we were expecting to be. But I think that from starting into the end of season, we showed a lot of resiliency and a lot of change…I think for seven or eight girls on our team this was their first season. So, this off-season is where we can really work on the small things…it’s the little things that you don’t have time to fix because you are focusing on big things during the season… I think that a lot of people can look forward to us getting in the gym and grinding.”
S: If you could be any animal in the world, what would it be and why?
G: I would be a bird because I could fly…I’d want to be one of those tiny, cute swallows.
As for future games, Gwen hinted at a few possible matches in the spring, so keep an eye out for the schedules and any announcements from the Raider volleyball team!