Freshman outside hitter Jayna Francis (Virginia Beach, Va.) was thrust into a starting role early in the 2019 season after the injury to Grace Turner. Francis went on to be one of the Cavaliers’ most prolific attackers, registering 214 kills to finish third on the team. She strung together three consecutive matches with 10+ kills and a .250+ hitting percentage before missing the final four matches of the year with a foot injury.
Q: What’s this period with no competitive volleyball been like? Is this the longest you’ve gone without playing?
Francis: It is almost scary how much free time I have now. I definitely miss the atmosphere in the gym – I feel there was a really good vibe going with good person-to-person chemistry.
This is the longest time I have gone without playing competitively, but our staff, Metro [Volleyball Club], and USAV have given me ideas for ball control drills. I try to pepper with my neighbor as often as I can, and I will definitely play beach ball as soon as possible.
Q: You came in and had an immediate impact as a freshman. Was that something you were expecting entering the year?
Francis: I came to UVA with the mindset that my role was going to be to get onto the court by improving the competition in the practice gym. I really believe everyone on the team is equally important, no matter what role; each member has a duty to offer their best effort every day for the good of Virginia Volleyball. I also looked forward to learning to use the scouting reports and the variety of statistics on VolleyMetrics to intimately study volleyball on a new level.
Q: Looking back on your first year at UVA, how do you feel it went?
Francis: I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be a student-athlete at the University of Virginia — the array of resources and incredible personnel display uncompromised excellence. On the academic side, I feel fortunate to take classes that align with my major interests while maintaining good grades. UVA has far exceeded any preconceived notion, so all I can wish for is to get back to Grounds and Mem so I can continue to be the best student-athlete I can be.
Q: What was the biggest adjustment for you at the college level?
Francis: The biggest adjustments coming to college were definitely sharing living space, learning how to lift heavier, meeting all the new goals of tutoring and mindset training and definitely in recovering effectively. Our athletic trainer, Natalie Kupperman, did a fantastic job in educating me on how to recover from a foot injury that scared me – my recovery was extra solid because of her mentoring efforts and I feel stronger and ready to go.
Q: Entering the spring, what were some of your goals for the offseason and where do you feel you’ve progressed?
Francis: Our team coined the term “boulder” to describe the skill we most want to improve. Coming into spring season, my main boulders were to develop a more aggressive serve and to improve my defensive range. Our practices were designed to cover each of our boulders – the defensive drills the coaches put together really helped me get practice expanding that defensive range. Focused reps in serving and getting Coach Aaron Smith’s advice on techniques is allowing me to develop a hybrid serve.
Q: Since the shutdown a couple months ago, how have you been working on volleyball?
Francis: Even though I can’t physically play in a team setting, there are still many ways to improve volleyball IQ and touch. On the physical side, I have a bounce-back that I pepper with and have developed some individual ball control drills. On the IQ side, we have video quizzes and items the coaching staff shares where we scout other returning ACC setters’ and attackers’ tendencies.
Q: The 2019 season was filled with injuries, but the team still showed marked improvement. Where do you think the program is heading into the 2020 season?
Francis: The team injuries were definitely a challenge both mentally and physically. That said, finishing the season on a high note definitely provided an excellent opportunity to build commitment for improving next season – there’s good buy-in on what we can and should accomplish. I feel the group is on track to make significant strides in the ACC and we feel empowered to set new standards. We trust our new goals and the coaching staff to help press us to become better together and individually than we were last season.
Q: Have you picked up any new hobbies or interests during the past two months at home?
Francis: At the very beginning of quarantine, I made a bucket-list of things I wanted to try but didn’t realize the severity of restrictions. I still have several things to cross off, but some of my favorite things I have done are learning to do card tricks and free hand painting. I’ve been exploring new and healthy recipes that I can replicate during the school year when I move into my new apartment. I even walked a full marathon to burn time. I do have to say my favorite thing is taking long walks on the beach, especially at sunset.
Q: How is the team staying connected right now?
Francis: Our team is really interactive with one another. We have Zoom calls with the coaches twice a week, as well as other team-only calls and chats. I know some of my teammates are starting up a book club; Milla (Ciprian) and I play each other on DuoLingo every day to keep our Spanish sharp. We also are keeping in touch with the incomers through text and other social media.
Q: What do you miss most about Grounds or Charlottesville?
Francis: I definitely miss training with my teammates the most. We all were improving so much in spring practices, it is going to be so exciting to see how we perform in season. We were also making big gains in the weight room, so that was very exciting to see everyone get stronger and more agile.