WHEELERSBURG — It’s quite the challenge to compete, and excel, in one sport at the collegiate level — let alone two.
But Wheelersburg’s Lauren Jolly, a three-sport standout as a Lady Pirate, plans to pull double duty at the University of Rio Grande.
That’s because Jolly, in a recent signing ceremony, officially put pen to paper and made her commitment official in two sports —announcing her intentions to both play volleyball and run track and field for the NAIA’s RedStorm.
Jolly was flanked at her signing by her parents Scott and Maria Jolly; several of her future and current coaches including Wheelersburg High School volleyball coach Allen Perry and Wheelersburg High School track and field coach Paul Boll; and several of her Lady Pirate volleyball and track and field teammates.
She also joins her twin brother Aaron in committing to play at the collegiate level, as Aaron Jolly officially inked the same afternoon with Mount Vernon Nazarene University to play soccer.
Both of Lauren’s Rio Grande head coaches are veterans of their sports —longtime track and field and cross country head coach Bob Willey and veteran volleyball mentor Billina Donaldson.
Jolly said she talked to multiple schools regarding “where the right fit would be”, but believes Rio Grande “is small town just like Wheelersburg”.
“I love the feel of just knowing who is behind you and knowing who you are playing for. Rio Grande gives me that small-town feel for both sports. All the coaches and staff that I’ve met up at Rio are really nice. It sounded like the best fit for me,” said Jolly.
Both sports being key, as Jolly has been the two-year setter on the outstanding Pirates’ volleyball squad —earning first-team all-Southern Ohio Conference Division II and second-team Division III District 14 Coaches Association honors as a senior.
Jolly’s junior campaign saw the Pirates push towards, and finally reach, the coveted state tournament for the first time in program history — sandwiched around Division III district championships.
In track and field, though, she’s arguably even more decorated.
Jolly is a two-time Division III state qualifier as a member of the Lady Pirates’ 4x100m relay, as were graduated teammates Gabby Deacon and Lani Irwin.
Three years ago (2018), Deacon (first leg), Jolly (second leg), Irwin (third leg) and anchor leg Libby Miller made the finals and finished eighth — earning all-Ohio honors and a single team point for the Lady Pirates in the process.
Two years back, the exact same quartet qualified again in the 4x100m — as Miller was a senior and again the anchor leg.
Jolly — along with Miller, third-leg Irwin and then-junior second-leg Alyssa Dingus —also punched a state ticket in the 4x200m relay, as that foursome finished ninth after qualifying for Saturday’s finals.
Unfortunately, the Ohio High School Athletic Association cancelled the 2020 spring sports seasons.
Besides the sprint relays, Jolly also competes in individual sprints, hurdles and long jump — although she said the RedStorm staff has approached her about being a “heptathlete”, which is competing in multiple events over multiple days at the same meet.
“I think that would be good for me and I am really excited,” she said. “I would have to learn how to do different events, such as the high jump, throw the shot put, run the mile, but I am looking forward to that challenge.”
Boll believes Jolly —like she has as a Lady Pirate — would “do anything we ask her to do”.
“She is very hard-working and very pleasant. The kind of quality kid you want to have around,” he said. “Makes the whole team better.”
Perry concurred about Jolly doing just that in volleyball.
“She’s been a tremendous part of our program for four years. The first year as a freshman, she came in and challenged our varsity starters at the time for playing time, pushing them to make us even better. We ran her as our libero her sophomore year, then she contacted me about trying out for setter (as a junior). She had been a setter prior to that, so of course a talent like her, you listen to what her desires were. She went to work, she came in and just did a fantastic job,” said the coach. “As athletic as she is, she gets to that second ball no matter where it is. With the communication between her and (Wheelersburg assistant) Coach (Kelsey) Glockner, as a former setter, things really came together for them and took our team to a whole another level for the past two years.”
She could also revert back to playing libero, which she did before being the standout setter.
“If I go up there and they want me to be a libero, I just want to play,” said Jolly. “Whatever works, whatever fits best, I will do.”
Jolly believes Rio Grande is better-suited for her to pursue both sports.
Especially given the time dedication both sports will consume.
“I had a really hard time deciding if I wanted to go for just track or just volleyball or try both. The other schools, I was wishy-washy with what I wanted to do. I decided I could do both at Rio,” she said. “It’s going to be a difficult challenge, but I am up for it. I love to stay busy and I don’t like to have a lot of free time. I love both sports, so it’s going to be fun and I am excited about meeting new people. I’m just going to have a good time with both volleyball and track. I coudn’t just pick one.”
One thing she hasn’t selected is a major — as she remains undecided upon that.
However, she is glad to already have her college commitment, or rather commitments, in the rear-view mirror prior to her final track and field season.
She described the recruiting process as often busy and stressful, but in the end, she will have a chance to excel in not just one sport at Rio Grande — but two.
“People don’t realize how challenging it is what student-athletes go through. There’s just a lot of stuff that goes into it,” said Jolly. “I am really relieved that I got these done, and I can just focus on track season and just let loose for my last track season and not have to worry about that.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved