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Yuma High, AWC grad helped Illinois to NCAA volleyball title match
When Yuma native Jennifer Fry took a job at the University of Illinois, she had no idea where the journey would lead her.
But it was a whirlwind ride for the volunteer assistant coach — one that led her to being a part of the No. 1-ranked team in the nation as well as an appearance in the Division I national championship game.
“The national championship game was amazing. We had a great staff, great players to work with all through the year and that had been our main goal. So to actually be fulfilling our goal and to be playing in the national championship match — you can't even begin to talk about the experience. I never thought I'd be able to do that and to be there and be playing against UCLA, the facility was almost packed, it was just a great atmosphere to be a part of. It's a memory that I'll cherish forever.”
Fry said that she ended up with the University of Illinois by chance.
She was coaching for Washington State in 2010 and after her head coach resigned, she began searching for a new place to work — but she wasn't about to take any old position. After exchanging emails and phone calls with Kevin Hamly, head volleyball coach for the Fighting Illini, she felt as if this position was where she would really be able to contribute to the team.
“I felt that this was a staff that I could work with and add something to and where I could help them along the journey — wherever that journey was going to end at. I feel part of it was luck that I was able to be part of the team that was No. 1 in the nation and was playing for a national championship.”
The national championship game was an emotional one, Fry said. The match didn't go as planned and the Fighting Illini lost to UCLA 3-1, but Fry said she wouldn't have traded her experience for the world.
“Of course we were sad. People were crying, I was crying. That was our goal ... a journey to the championship. It didn't go that well but I don't think I could've picked a better group of people — the staff, the athletic trainer, the managers, the players — to work with.
“I really can't describe how amazing it was to work with them and it didn't go the way we wanted it to, but I felt like we really won in the end because we were with such a good group of girls. I really can't describe it. ... We were all just like pieces to the puzzle and we all had such different personalities but we fit together very well.”
Fry's own volleyball journey had a humorous start but has been studded with accomplishments along the way.
“I tried out for the seventh-grade team at Gila Vista and I didn't understand the whole part of putting the ball on the court,” Fry laughed. “I just thought the whole idea was to hit the ball as hard as you can. So I was hitting the back wall, I was just tattooing the walls. I transferred to Fourth Avenue Junior High and I made the team and just played as much volleyball as I could.”
During her high school career, Fry played as an outside hitter for the Yuma High Criminals. It was here, she said, that she really learned the game.
“I played for Maureen Evans — now Matthews, I believe — and she was just a great teacher of the game. Fundamentally she just taught me so much.”
Fry continued her career at Arizona Western College, playing volleyball for two years there. During this time, Fry helped the Matadors earned a No. 10 national rank.
She was at a crossroads of where to finish college and finally chose the University of Montevallo in Alabama.
“I felt like it was a great fit and I could go there and I could compete for a position right away. I wasn't looking just for big name, I was looking for somewhere that I could play. I had a great time playing there — we were really good.”
It was there that she began coaching a small club team and developed a love for the art of coaching.
Now Fry is once again searching for her next adventure. Though she has head coaching experience, she said she would never turn away the opportunity to be an assistant coach — if it were right for her.
“I feel like as a coach, you can always learn and you can always get better. If there's a position as an assistant where I can learn stuff from a head coach and still be able to give a lot to the program, I would definitely do that without a doubt. It's just wherever is going to be the best fit for me.”
But as for where she will end up, she said that your guess is as good as hers.
“I think that the future is really a big question mark. There's a lot of jobs coming open right now. There are jobs all over the U.S. — on the East Coast and West Coast. ... But I really have zero clue of where I'm going to move to and where I'm going to be coaching at, but I'm kind of excited about that. After moving so much, you get used to changing and adapting to new places so I'm just excited.”
Erin Redmond can be reached at email@example.com or 538-6880.