New Player Profile: Volleyball
By Jordyn Matez
Even though they’ve just come off a match that lasted over two hours and four sets, and resulted in an overall loss, FGCU volleyball freshmen, Dana Axner and Chelsey Lockey, are all smiles.
The two girls stayed at Alico Arena, long after their Friday night game ended, for a promotional event that allowed fans to meet the players and join them for a slice of pizza.
“We’re technically not even allowed to touch the pizza until everyone else leaves,” Axner said through a laugh. Both agreed that they didn’t mind waiting to eat, and they certainly seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere regardless — possibly because this was an unfamiliar event to the girls, who are both first-year student athletes at FGCU.
Though Axner and Lockey are new to FGCU, neither one has had much trouble adjusting to spending all of their time with teammates. Axner is the youngest of six siblings – two of whom are sisters who played volleyball on the collegiate level. Lockey and her older sister often practiced in their backyard before going to club volleyball games as teammates in grade school.
This isn’t to say that the girls have sibling rivalries over who’s the best at the sport, however. For Lockey, her sister Kortney is part of the reason she continued to play volleyball on a collegiate level.
“I’ve just always followed in her footsteps and looked up to her and used her as a role model,” Lockey said of her sister, who currently plays at the University of Northern Colorado. “Even though we play different positions, it was still just her mindset and attitude that just really encouraged me and made me want to do my best.”
While Lockey looks up to her sister, Axner finds inspiration in her faith. Axner, who described herself as fairly religious, says that she finds comfort in believing in God.
“For me, it just really keeps me calm to know that He’s always there,” Axner said. “He gave me these gifts, so I might as well use them on the court.”
Regardless of being able to rely on her faith to keep her confident on the court, Axner noted that it hadn’t been that easy growing into the collegiate athlete she is today.
After being cut from her club team shortly before her freshman year of high school, Axner said that she lacked the confidence needed to continue playing volleyball. She almost quit completely and instead focused on basketball, which she was also playing at the time. However, she tried out for her high school volleyball team simply because she felt like she had to. This ended up being a blessing, Axner said, because it was the reason she fell back in love with volleyball.
“I don’t even think they cut anyone, so it didn’t really boost my self-esteem,” Axner said with a laugh. “But my coach gave me a lot of confidence, and I honestly give her so much credit for that.”
Axner and Lockey both also agreed that one of the hardest challenges they’ve faced so far is finding ways to preserve their love for the game. Both girls had gone through points in their life where they had considered quitting. For Axner, it was getting cut from her club team that almost convinced her she wasn’t good enough. In Lockey’s case, volleyball started to become more of a chore than a fun hobby.
“It’s just a lot, so it’s easy to get burned out,” Lockey said.
According to Lockey, volleyball is a year-round job. Between playing with a traveling club team and her high school’s team, Lockey said that it can be overwhelming at times. So much so that, similarly to Axner, Lockey considered quitting volleyball for a different sport entirely: track.
Lockey said that she went through phases of hating volleyball and liking track during track season, but would fall back in love with volleyball once that season rolled around. For both girls, it was a challenge to remain loyal to the sport they love, but the end result was more than worth it.
“It was hard,” Axner agreed with Lockey. “But now that I’m here I realize that I’m so happy for putting in all the work over the years and getting past everything.”
Statistically speaking, the record books further prove Axner’s point that the girls’ hard work has paid off. Regardless of being an Eagle for less than one full season, Axner already holds the Division-I era program single-match record of 39 digs from her performance against West Virginia University on September 8th. She was also named the ASUN Defensive Player of the Week award for the week of September 11th, and has already been named the ASUN Freshman of the Week twice.
Axner was named to the All-Lobo Classic team and the All-Homewood Suites Fort Myers/FGCU Classic team, the All-Lobo Classic was her second-ever collegiate tournament.
Lockey has had an equally as impressive start to her collegiate career, earning ASUN Freshman of the Week honors for the week of September 24th and logging impressive career-high stats, such as 12 digs against Yale and, most recently, 19 assists to aid the Eagles in a big win over Lipscomb University this past weekend.
The girls’ hard work as athletes is far from over. With signing a contract as a student athlete comes the challenge of balancing a college education with a collegiate sporting career.
For the volleyball team, their day starts at 7 a.m., with a morning workout three days a week. Following workouts, the girls go their separate ways to classes and meet up later in the afternoon for their daily, three-hour team practices. Then, those who still need to log study hours head to the study hall in Alico Arena. Many freshmen, including Axner and Lockey, are required by the athletics department to log eight study hours a week.
“Even when we have travel trips, we still have study hall in the hotels while we’re away.” Lockey noted, while Axner chimed in that her life consisted of “either playing volleyball or studying, always.”
All complaining aside, the girls agreed that the studying is paying off, as it helps them move toward their eventual career goal of becoming educators.
Axner, a secondary math major, says that she intends to become a high school math teacher, though she may follow in her father’s footsteps further on in her career and try to climb to a superintendent position. Lockey knows she wants to teach a first grade class, but both also agreed that they could see the possibility of coaching volleyball in their futures as well.
Though they continue to have long days that, even after working harder than they ever had before, sometimes result in tough losses, Axner and Lockey both remain energetic and eager to continue their collegiate careers.
“It’s definitely super new, and it can be overwhelming at times,” Lockey said of the whole process. “But I feel like the [FGCU] volleyball team has made it really easy for us to adjust coming from high school into college.”