Higher education: Hayes takes core values to college game

Jade Hayes, once a highly-touted national recruit, is learning to fill a position on a team that she will one day have to lead.
Left outside hitter Jade Hayes serves the ball Aug. 26 during the Tiger Invite at the Hearnes Center. Hayes had four digs at the game versus Kansas on Wednesday.

Jade Hayes has finally arrived.

In high school, she was named PrepVolleyball.com’s best junior in the nation. She was twice named Missouri’s Gatorade Player of the year. She traveled to Singapore as one of the 12 players to compete on the 2010 USA Youth Olympic team.

She is quiet when reminded of such accomplishments.

“Really, I mean, it’s not a big deal," she said.

Hayes was as close to an athletic legend and record setter Ozark High School had ever seen. The well-built 6-foot, 135 pound outside hitter and libero could wreak havoc on opposing lines. She could orchestrate an offense and anchor a defense almost single-handedly.

“Honestly, I’ve always been blessed to have great teammates around me," Hayes said.

She finally arrived.

She is struggling and she knows it. She’s no longer a stat machine, and that’s because she’s not supposed to be. She’s a cog in the system now rather than the whole operation. She’s a defensive specialist, a member of the backcourt designated to one area that she must protect.

“Sometimes, you have to change what you’re used to to get into the rhythm of things," she said.

She is an honors student, one of the reasons she was honored by the Missouri House of Representatives. Balancing studies has never been more difficult. She has taken two tests while traveling for road games. She has to somehow manage the rigors of that Chemistry class.

“I cry when I don’t get an A," she said.

She finally arrived.

She has returned to this place that was her playground, the Hearnes Center, Missouri’s home arena. She was once here as a toddler, tagging along with her mom who assisted in youth camps. She ran through the tunnels of this place once with Allie and Ryan Kreklow, the children of coaches Wayne and Susan Kreklow. Wayne Kreklow already could see the player blossoming.

But, she’s not that player yet. It’s the night of Sept. 28, and she’s back in this place and she tastes defeat, its bitterness. In the loss to Kansas State, there were times she could have saved a ball but wasn’t positioned quite right or quite quick enough. This place is glum now.

She is walking out of the locker room tunnel in a hoodie, out of the tunnel she once played in. She reaches the court and makes her way up the bleachers.

She raises her chin and she sees her parents, who drove three hours from home. She flashes a huge smile as she walks into their arms.

And Hayes is happy.

“Without them, I couldn’t push through," she said. "I wouldn’t be here.”

She’s back in the arms of her mom, Joanna, who played four years at Missouri Southern State, back to playing on her Springfield Junior club team where Joanna was her coach and Christ’s love was mentioned about as much as technique and strategy.

“She made me the player I am today,” Hayes says.

She’s back in the arms of her dad, Steven, a 6-foot-5 man who once played defensive end at the University of Tulsa before getting hurt and transferring to Missouri Southern State University where he would get injured again and later decide to go to a Bible school in Joplin and become a non-denominational pastor. She's back to the man that ignited her path to Jesus.

“He taught me to play for the glory of the Lord,” she said.

Hayes said her abilities are a divine gift from “the good grace of God.”

“She’s attentive to detail,” Kreklow said. “Sometimes you see players who are so intent on doing everything perfectly, and they overload themselves. But that’s sometimes the attribute that makes them great.”

Hayes said she dreams of playing overseas when her college career is done.

“I want to do this for my family because they’ve taken me this far,” she said. “God gave me this talent and I want to do this, I want to use it.”

This is the face of a defense’s future. It lights up into an enormous smile when coach Kreklow says, “Take ‘em around twice, Jade,” instructing her to lead her teammates for a couple jogs around the court before practice. She tucks the cross on her necklace under her shirt collar.

“Adjustment takes time,” Kreklow said. “It’s not like a light switch. It’s doesn’t just come on."

Behind Kreklow, practice is beginning. Hayes is at the front of the opening jog, her teammates following close behind her. She will be last to leave practice.

"It’s like watching the sun rise," Kreklow said.

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