🏐 Volleyball is coming to JPJ! So we had the volleyball team test out the men's basketball team's skills!
— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) October 23, 2023
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — At a time when Veresia Yon wasn’t sure she believed in herself as a volleyball player, she had Shannon Wells’ full belief. And that’s a large reason why Yon ended up at the University of Virginia.
With her graduation from the University of West Florida approaching in the spring of 2022, Yon entered the transfer portal. UVA’s Wells was among the head coaches who contacted Yon, a middle blocker who’d been named a first-team Division II All-American in 2021.
Wells had played at the University of Southern Indiana, another Division II program, and had no doubt Yon could thrive in the ACC.
“I forget the exact quote that she used when she was recruiting me,” Yon said, “but it absolutely sold me. She was like, ‘You’re a Division I player playing at the Division II level,’ and that just kind of stuck with me throughout all the other phone calls that I had with different coaches. That’s the one thing that stuck out, that I did have the potential to not just make it to Division I, but actually have an impact on a team.”
Led by head coach Melissa Wolter, West Florida has one of the top programs in Division II. “I have tons and tons of respect for what they do,” Wells said, “so when V became available, I knew it would be a big jump going from D-II to Power Five, but I really trusted the gym and the culture that she was in with Melissa. They won a lot of matches, and V was a very successful player. There was going to be an adjustment period, but I knew that she just needed time.”
Wells’ faith in Yon proved to be well-founded. At 6-foot-1, Yon is undersized for a middle blocker at a Power Five program, but she’s shined as a Cavalier. In 2022, she led Virginia in hitting percentage (.333) and was second on the team in total blocks. This season, Yon is second on the team in kills, behind junior middle blocker Abby Tabber, and leads the Wahoos in total blocks and hitting percentage.
“I’m happy with where I am right now,” Yon said. “Obviously, there’s places for improvement. Shannon tells me every day that there’s opportunities to get better. I’m excited to keep learning more and more about the game, even though I only have a couple months left, which is kind of sad to say, but I’m excited to keep learning and making the most of this.”
The transition to Division I was challenging, Yon said. “The girls here are a lot bigger. I’ve gone against 6-5, 6-6, 6-7. You don’t see that in the D-II level. So definitely the size and physicality of the players is a lot different, and the speed of the game is a lot faster than in Division II.”
In Division II, Yon said, “I feel like people are strategic with where they place the ball. But at the D-I level, they’re like, ‘I’m bigger than you, I’m faster than you, I’m gonna hit the ball as hard as I can, and I will score.’ That’s the kind of mentality that I had to get adjusted to. So I had to beef up in the weight room a little bit more and then also work on my IQ piece, to try to outmatch other people from different aspects of the court, not just physically.”
Yon continues to distinguish herself off the court, too. In May, she received a master’s degree in higher education from UVA’s School of Education and Human Development. In addition to taking classes this semester, she’s serving as a graduate assistant in academics and student-athlete development.
“She has such a positive attitude and contributes really wonderful ideas to the student development team,” said Heid VandeHoef-Gunn, who’s director of career development for UVA Athletics and one of Yon’s supervisors. “I know that she’s interested in a career in college athletes and definitely has a bright future.”
Yon’s responsibilities in her internship include social media and program planning, and she’s helped increase “our social media following and engagement significantly since May, creating the most-liked individual posts on our IG account to date,” VandeHoef-Gunn said. “She uses such creativity and collaboration to carry out tasks, and we are fortunate to have her in service to our student-athletes.”
Eventually, Yon said, she hopes to become an assistant athletics director for student-athlete development or academic coordinating. She’s been applying for jobs as an academic adviser, figuring she’ll start there “and then move up the ranks,” said Yon, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communications/public relations from West Florida.
She’s not interested in playing volleyball professionally. “Absolutely not,” Yon said, laughing. “My knees, my back, my shoulders cannot handle that.”
When she arrived at UVA, Yon didn’t know which career path she would want to follow, but through her master’s program she “started really getting involved with the student-development side and fell in love with college athletics,” Wells said.
Yon played a leading role in coordinating and promoting the match Virginia played early this month at Memorial Gymnasium to raise awareness about mental health for student-athletes.
“On top of the academic workload she continues to take, she’s also finding ways to make an impact and get networking and real job experience,” Wells said. “To me, that’s everything that’s UVA, and I’m really proud of her for taking advantage of that.”
In her internship, Yon divides her time between the McCue Center and John Paul Jones Arena. She’s attended basketball games at JPJ and regularly eats dinner at the dining hall, but she’s never played volleyball there.
That will change Sunday. In the first-ever volleyball match at JPJ, UVA will take on Virginia Tech at 2 p.m. (At its customary home, Mem Gym, Virginia fell 3-1 to Wake Forest on Friday night.)
“I’m so excited,” Yon said about the venue for this Commonwealth Clash showdown.
So is Wells, who’s in her third season at UVA. “I’m just really proud and humbled by the number of people that have worked really hard to make sure this is a first-class event for all our student-athletes and the community,” she said.
Early in her UVA career, Yon said, she learned that a match at JPJ was a possibility. “I just didn’t think it was going to be in my two years. It makes me happy I stayed for my sixth year.”
Yon came to the University with two seasons of eligibility. She redshirted as a West Florida freshman in 2018, and the team’s 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That she didn’t compete in her first season at West Florida speaks to how unpolished Yon was in volleyball when she graduated from Lincoln High School in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fla.
“I was not the best player, I will say that,” Yon said.
Growing up in Tallahassee, she focused on basketball and dreamed of playing hoops for a Division I program. “So volleyball was kind of just something I did on the side up until, like, the middle of high school,” Yon said. “Then I started getting really good at volleyball.”
She continued playing basketball, though, and had to miss many of the tournaments in which Prostyle Volleyball Academy, her local club, competed. That made her something of an under-the-radar recruit in volleyball, but the more she played that sport, the more she liked it, and “I just kind of fell out of love with basketball,” Yon said. “I just decided to pick volleyball, and here I am, six years later, just playing the same sport.”
Her hometown school, Florida State, showed interest in Yon after she entered the transfer portal, but she said she wanted to get away and “spread my wings.”
She found what she was looking for at UVA. The Hoos have struggled to gain traction in the ever-improving ACC, “but I feel like our team is so close,” Yon said. “We’re all each other’s best friends. From a team standpoint, we get to go out there and compete every single day with our best friends, so I think that kind of helps us compensate for the losses.”
Yon, who has three siblings, all younger brothers, loved her four years at West Florida, and she wanted to have a similar experience at UVA.
“And I think I have that,” she said. “I love every single one of these girls like they’re my sisters that I’ve never had. I couldn’t have asked for anymore. Everyone here wants you to be the best version of yourself you can be, and I think being at UVA just made me a better person, better volleyball player, better student.”
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