The volleyball program has a new face as head coach with Jeni Jones, who was introduced by athletic director Brad Teague on Jan. 22.
Jones is replacing David McFatrich, who left for Mississippi State University on Jan. 12.
It took Teague and the search committee less than a week to find his replacement in Jones.
Teague said the quick search was almost a necessity.
“It’s so important for our student-athletes to move quickly through the search process,” he said. “We had several candidates and we soon found out Jones was the best fit.”
Jones played four years at the University of Florida from 1995- 1998 as a middle blocker, helping the team to three straight NCAA Final Four appearances.
However, during her time at Florida, she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome during her junior year, a rare disease that affects the body’s central nervous system.
While in the hospital, she developed Bell’s Palsy.
Despite her condition, she fought to have her senior year as a Gator be her best, helping lead the UF to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.
She earned the NCAA’s Honda Inspiration Award in 1999.
After her playing career, she turned to coaching, getting her first job as an assistant coach with the Gators.
She left the Gators coaching staff in 1999 and headed to Illinois State University, where she served on the coaching staff for two years.
While at ISU, the Redbirds went 36-23, including two runner-up finishes in the regular season and conference tournament.
When she left Illinois State, she went to Springfield, Missouri to be a Missouri State University assistant coach in 2002.
In 2005, she was promoted to associate head coach.
In her 13 seasons at MSU, the Bears compiled a 291-132 (.690) record, including a 184-70 (.754) record in the Missouri Valley Conference.
MSU finished in the top two of the MVC in either the regular season or MVC Tournament all but four times during her time at MSU.
She won the Springfield Women’s Intersport Courage Award in 2008 and the MVC Most Courageous Award in 2012.
Junior middle blocker Fulani Petties said she is ready to work with Jones.
“I am excited for Coach Jones to take over the program,” she said. “It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to be coached by her.”
Jones said her plan for sustained success is to use speed and play fast.
“We want to get the ball to any player at any time and to defend with speed,” she said.
She said the team’s goal is not only to win the conference championship and play in the NCAA Tournament, but also to be involved in the community.
“I want to immerse our team and staff into the community,” she said. “We need to give back and want to give back.”
Junior outside hitter Evie Singleton said she thinks Jones is the perfect candidate to continue the volleyball program’s success.
“She seems very knowledgeable of the game and how to win, and I think that she will help continue the UCA volleyball legacy,” she said.
Jones has not brought any coaches with her, but plans to bring candidates in next week.
She also plans to bring in five to six new players.
The Sugar Bears will lose graduating senior libero and defensive specialist Shelbee Berringer and graduating senior outside hitter Alicia Dittrich.
Jones is under contract for four years and will make $60,000 per year.