By Grant McDonald
When Jennifer Williams was in Grade 8, her entire soccer team decided to go try out for a rep volleyball team — and she made it. Now standing 5’11” and playing left side, Williams has followed her love of the game here to Ryerson where she has helped create the beginning of a new era of women’s volleyball, not to mention the fact that she is ranked number three overall in Ontario this season.
Born in Burlington, Ont. and growing up in Waterdown, Williams was always surrounded by sports. With two very athletic older brothers around, she found herself always competing against them.
The athletic gene has been passed down from her parents who were both varsity athletes in their post-secondary days. Her mother played basketball while her father played soccer.
Her parents were always there for her, when talking about her childhood of sports, her father said “There was always somewhere to go, we got to see a lot of places around Ontario because she got to travel a lot, always busy.”
She played volleyball throughout high school, leading her team to two Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships. She accomplished this in Grade 10, when she actually postponed a trip to Costa Rica to play in the gold medal match, she repeated as a champion in grade 11.
After the long haul of school, Williams, like every other high school student, was faced with a choice about her future: post-secondary education.
“I never even really heard of Ryerson,” she admitted.
So how did our school luck out with such a superstar?
She was training at a juvenile league volleyball camp where Bob Cholette, the head coach of the women’s volleyball team happened to be coaching.
He asked Williams if she had ever considered coming to Ryerson.
“I told him I was interested in the tourism program and he sent me an abundance of information on it which is awesome,” she said.
She was even able to come in occasionally to practice with the men’s team to keep her game in peak condition.
Now in her second season, Williams, along with others is helping to build a strong foundation for women’s volleyball at Ryerson.
Cholette is ecstatic that he was able to snag a player of Williams’ caliber for his already loaded squad.
“She’s probably one of the strongest players on our team,” he said.
He believes that other universities may have over looked her was because when she played for her high school team, Cholette said that she wasn’t being used to her full potential.
But there’s more to a star player than just having skills, that’s why Williams fits the profile well.
“Jen’s willing to shag balls or fill up the water bottles…if you have one of your best players willing to do anything, that sets a great example for others to follow,” Cholette said.
Dave Dubois, program director for the department of sports and recreation at Ryerson understands how Williams is helping to create a solid foundation here for the team.
“When we have players that excel at an individual level, it does help us to recruit,” Dubois said. “Usually you build a program starting with someone, not around them, and then you just add to it.”
Regardless of how the foundation is built, either around or beneath, one thing is for certain — Williams is on top of her game right now.
Terry Haggerty, manager of interuniversity sports at Ryerson said, “I think Jen being highly ranked early in her career, there’s a huge upside to how much better she’s going to keep getting.”
As well as improving her game, Williams will continue to raise the level of those playing around her. Haggerty is thrilled not only that she is doing so well only in her second year, but also that Ryerson will have her for another two or three years.
Brianne Koning, a third-year nursing student and Rams middle says, “(Williams has) taken more of a leadership role.” She explained that she leads on the court by setting a great example.
Koning has two seasons of eligibility remaining while Williams has three.
“We get little glimpse of things that we could be (in the future) and it’ s really exciting,” Koning said.
Williams will continue this season with two goals in her mind, the first, a personal goal to be consistent this season, “to play really well every game, not having off days and on days,” Williams said. The second is for the team to make the playoffs.
One thing is for sure; Jennifer Williams continues leading the women’s volleyball team in the right direction, it won’t be long before the team’s star will carry them to the playoffs.