Player of the Year watch: Roni Jones-Perry grand in BYU's upset of Stanford
Each week during the volleyball season, we'll recognize a player whose recent performances reinforce her place among the best in the nation. Consider it our way to check in on, or in some cases introduce, the personalities who will shape the race for espnW player of the year.
Often when Roni Jones-Perry is in the zone, she's into her second hour in the gym and that nagging voice inside is reminding her it's probably time to pack it up. One more back squat and she's good to go, she tells herself.
OK, two more and then outta here, she promises.
The BYU senior outside hitter can dial into a volleyball match with a similar intensity. The MVP of the BYU Invitational last weekend averaged 4.45 kills per set, 5.36 points per set and 2.18 digs per set while hitting at a .444 clip in three matches. She and BYU had a night for the books on Friday against Stanford when her 20 kills, 10 digs, 5 blocks and 2 aces paved the way for an upset of the top team in the nation.
Jones-Perry soaked in the frenzied celebration at Smith Fieldhouse when BYU took the first two sets only to see Stanford rally for a pair. BYU prevailed in a 15-11 fifth when Jones-Perry seemed to have a hand in every play, including three kills and a tip around the block to set up match point.
"There were so many big moments in that match," Jones-Perry said. "We got to the point where we told ourselves, 'We're doing this.'"
Stanford has since dropped to No. 4 in the AVCA national poll while BYU moved up to No. 3. Jones-Perry, this week's AVCA player of the week, was instrumental in holding Kathryn Plummer, the reigning national player of the year, from Stanford, in check. Plummer hit .176; the Cardinal was just under .200 for four of the five sets.
"Roni was incredible against Stanford," Cougars coach Heather Olmstead said. "She took some big-time swings when we needed them. She also was phenomenal on the block -- solo blocks against Plummer and some other kids. I was proud of her efforts offensively and defensively. She had a fire in her eyes that I've seen before. She didn't want to let this match slip away, so I was really proud of her effort to stay in the moment."
Jones-Perry notched her 1,000th kill against the Cardinal, which Olmstead said was remarkable because the native of West Jordan, Utah, had just 171 as a freshman. On Saturday, she added to that with 16 kills and eight digs, hitting a career-best .682 against Wichita State.
Olmstead is particularly pleased by how much Jones-Perry has improved since becoming a six-rotation player last fall.
"She knows they're going to serve to her, and she's embraced the idea of learning to be a better passer," Olmstead said. "She's open to coaching and wants to keep getting better.
"Defensively against Stanford, she made digs I have never seen her make."
"One of the best feelings in the world is getting a stuffed block," Jones-Perry said. "I'm finding that once someone takes their best rip and you can get a touch on it, that's almost as good as a kill."
Almost nothing feels as good as being inside the gym, said Jones-Perry, who wants to be a strength and conditioning coach after college. An internship last winter offered her the chance to learn in the weight room alongside BYU athletes from the Olympic sports. She has always loved to train, going back to her days as a youth gymnast.
"If I ever get into an argument with my coaches, it's about that," she said, laughing. "I get that I need to save my energy for the court. I've learned it's not just the physical stuff that's going to prepare me well for games. Sometimes it's watching film or resting."
While being in top shape contributes to her physicality, Jones-Perry credits it for largely keeping her injury-free. It has also helped create a mindfulness that prevents her from worrying too much about a point gone awry.
The reigning West Coast Conference player of the year was a third-team All-American last year. Olmstead thinks she can move up to first team in her final season of college volleyball.
Jones-Perry is motivated for BYU to make waves in the national tournament. She remembers watching the 2014 NCAA championship on TV when the Cougars were runner-up to Penn State.
"I had just committed to BYU then, and that was the cherry on top," she said. "Now I want to see how good I can be and how good our team can be. I'm going to feel the most satisfaction knowing I was playing and giving my absolute best."