A year ago, Jess Murray was sitting on the sidelines as the manager of the Owls, the Keene State women’s volleyball team. The then-freshman kept connected to the game she had played since 6th grade, scribbling down stats, keeping score or doing whatever job needed to be done.
But Jess wasn’t content being a bystander. For one thing, she had a proud history of playing in Red Hook, including one season with Kristen Girard, a four-year player for the Owls, and three years with Danielle, Kristen’s younger sister.
So instead of holding a clipboard at Keene State in New Hampshire, she wanted to hold a volleyball. Instead of writing down other players’ points, she wanted to make her own digs, assists, and services aces.
She got her wish this season when she was one of 11 newcomers who made the Keene State women’s volleyball team. “I was really nervous. I didn’t know I made the team until they posted it in the locker room,” she said in an athletic department press release. “I knew I’d be right on that line of making it.”
“I’ve never had this happen in 24 years of coaching,” said KSC Coach Bob Weiner. “Jess became an integral part of the team –even as a manager. She’s one of the toughest kids on the team. We love to have her around, so we gave her a uniform.”
Jess started playing in sixth grade with some friends who were also interested trying out for the school team. Working with her dad, Jim, to develop her skills and her toughness, Jess played a couple of seasons for the Red Hook JV team before moving up to varsity in 9th grade.
Splitting time as the teams’ libero and defensive specialists, Jess helped the Raiders to three sectional titles and three trips to the regional finals. “We were like a family. That’s why we did so well,” said Jess, a two-time team captain. “It was probably my favorite team I ever played on.”
Attempting to make the Keene State team as a walk-on, Jess tried out on the first day of classes. Disappointed, but not discouraged about not making the senior-laden team, she accepted the position as the Owls’ manager. “Coach Weiner told me there wasn’t really room on the team, but wanted me to stick around and practice,” she said, adding “I guess he saw some potential in me.”
She made the most of her time with the team, giving up one year of eligibility to practice with the Owls. Her perseverance paid off that spring when she joined the team for its off-season practices and games. She then spent the summer working on her game. “I knew I had a lot of work to do because I didn’t know how many freshmen were coming in,” she said. “When I came to preseason, I had it in my mind that I wanted it; I was going to be on the team.”
Her biggest supporter was her roommate Sammy Dormio, a sophomore libero on the team. “Jess is extremely determined,” said Sammy. “I was so proud of her making the team.”