“Just watch her”
Fall 2017, in New Bremen, Ohio — population of 2,973 — then-Michigan commit Paige Jones brought home the first state championship for her high school, simultaneously setting state records for kills in the state tournament (72) and kills in a match (47).
Fall 2018, in Ann Arbor, Mich. — student population of 46,716 — Jones looked to prove herself as a freshman on a new stage, one much larger than ever before.
Now in 2019, the star sophomore outside hitter has shown that her skills translate to the next level — and since her first start, she has just kept getting better.
For Jones, this process all began in fifth grade, when she started playing club volleyball. The club she joined was in Columbus — a three-hour round trip drive three times a week.
Fortunately, Jones’ hard work paid off, and it showed in her play. She was a menace on the court for opposing teams, and was already being recruited in her freshman year of high school.
Michigan didn’t begin recruiting Jones until her sophomore year, but by the end of it, she was committed.
“I came here for a visit and I just fell in love instantly with the campus,” Jones said. “It was not like any other campus that I visited. It was a true college town. I just felt like I was at home.”
Jones wasn’t as obvious a recruit as it may seem. At 6-foot-1, she was undersized at her outside hitter position. It was a concern Michigan coach Mark Rosen took into account.
Rosen’s attention was turned toward her by his assistant coach Sean Byron and associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Leisa Rosen — but Mark was still uneasy. Byron and Leisa had to approach the head coach, adamant about their judgement on Jones’ skill.
“Mark, you need to just go watch her for a whole day,” Byron and Leisa said, according to Mark. “Just go to a tournament and sit on her court. And just watch her. Don’t watch anybody else, just watch her.”
“So, I went to the tournament and I just sat down and I watched her,” Mark said. “And literally halfway through the day, I texted both of them and said we have to have this kid. She’s awesome.”
From then on, Michigan’s recruitment of Jones was aggressive because they knew how great a fit she would be.
“I think a lot of people missed on her,” Mark said. “I think probably a lot of people had that same inclination I did of, is she going to be big enough? And they didn’t take the time to go sit and watch her.”
Her ability to adapt — aided by her years playing track and basketball in addition to volleyball — certainly helped in her transition from high school to the Big Ten, one of college volleyball’s best conferences. The team was able to get in the gym early in the summer, helping Jones shift from high school to college play. But one of her most important assets in the transition was then-senior outside hitter Carly Skjodt. Jones was able to learn from her as a role model, on and off the court.
Jones went on to finish her freshman year with strong numbers. She ended the season with 402 kills — second most on the team, only behind Skjodt — and led the team with 39 serving aces.
But those are just numbers to Jones. Her main goal is to keep developing.
“I’m not the best I can be,” Jones said. “You can never really be the best that you can be. I just keep coming into the gym working hard every single day.”
Just like in high school, her effort has shown in her progress. This season, she leads the team with 303 kills and 30 serving aces, and she has 178 digs, 28 blocks and 14 assists. But most notably, she’s improved her hit percentage. Jones ended her freshman year with a .195 hitting percentage, not what the team was looking for at the outside hitter position. This year, she’s improved tremendously, hitting at .260 through 22 games.
“She still gets kills like crazy, but her efficiency has gotten so much better,” Mark said. “She’s continued to get better.”
Jones is only in her second year as a Wolverine, but her skills and hard work offer a hint of how good she may be after two more years.
“I think she has the potential to be one of the best outside hitters in the country,” Mark said. “I wouldn’t really want to put any limits or expectations on her because I think she could be the best ever.
For Jones, success stems from her beginnings. And she believes it is of utmost importance to give back.
“Every single time I go home, I make sure to go into school, visit all my old teachers, visit the team,” Jones said. “Just making sure I go back to the roots where it all started and just get back. I think that’s super important. Because without them, without the people in the years prior, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Jones’ impact on New Bremen and its residents should not be understated. She puts in the time and effort to leave a positive influence on the town, and it shows.
“Everybody knows who Paige is, everybody wants to be like Paige. She’s just a great role model,” said Diana Kramer, her high school coach. “Not only do I still have a relationship with her, but she still has a relationship with my four kids, with everybody in town. Everybody loves to see her.”
Kramer goes on to tell a story about her second grade classroom. The kids were writing bio poems and the last line is “who dreams of”. A little girl in Kramer’s class wrote “who dreams of breaking Paige’s records playing volleyball.”
That’s the type of lasting impact Jones has left — a second grader, 12 years younger than Jones, wants to emulate her.
“She’s made an impression on a lot of people,” Kramer said. “She’s just a really good person. She cares deeply about people. She’s very, very humble. She’s very competitive, but she finds ways to make the people around her better people.”
Jones holds the town of New Bremen and its people dear to her. She puts in her time to visit and further develop the culture she helped foster. The town itself is definitely important to her, but what ties her to the town is something she holds closer to her heart than anything else — family.
She struggles to even explain how important they are to her, attributing a large part of her success to what her family has done for her and the time they’ve given up to help her. When asked about them, she is answering before the question is even finished.
To any observer, it’s obvious where her giving virtue comes from, and she carries her family’s values to this day.
Paige Jones left her mark at New Bremen, and now she’s well on her way to doing the same at Michigan. Her numbers are big and her leadership shows, but she knows she has even more left to give. All you need to do is just watch her.