Dawson’s hard work and dedication pays off
Sam Tapper — Sports Writer
In the case of many collegiate athletes, the sport they are playing is the sport they grew up loving. However, for graduate student and Southern volleyball captain, Jenn Dawson, volleyball was something new to her.
Dawson, a graduate student who comes from The Morgan School in Clinton, Conn., was a three sport varsity- in high school as she played basketball and softball in addition to volleyball. Though she is the captain of the Owls now, she did not start playing volleyball until her freshman year of high school.
“Volleyball was a new experience for me coming into high school,” said Dawson. “My sister started playing it her freshman year, she’s 16-months older than me, so then I went to her games and was like, ‘that looks like an awesome sport; I want to hop on that bandwagon’.”
Once she did hop on, she quickly thrived. As a high school athlete, Dawson was a two time all-conference and all-state selection. She helped lead her school to three conference crowns and one state championship, where she was named MVP.
“Obviously, they’re pretty cool to get,” said Dawson, regarding her high school accolades, “but in reality, I think what I learned most from high school was just that whole team dynamic aspect, and it really shows when a team plays as a team.”
When it came to college, however, Dawson had some uncertainty. Before she decided on a school, she needed to figure out what sport she was going to play, as she had fielded multiple offers to play college basketball elsewhere. Once she had chosen volleyball as her collegiate sport to pursue, her relationship with Southern and head coach Lisa Barbaro began to form.
“I actually reached out to [Barbaro], ironically,” said Dawson about her recruitment process. “She did go to my high school, so I’ve known about her for a long time. I have looked up to her in a lot of different ways, and when I came here, I felt like I could really be a part of the team. I felt at home.”
Once Dawson arrived, the road got much tougher. Despite all the talent she showed in high school, she was, after all, still relatively new to the sport. From that experience, Coach Barbaro said she believes she has grown “tremendously.”
“Jenn came in as someone a long way away from being what I saw to be [a] division two caliber volleyball player,’” said Barbaro. “Not having a long history of playing experience for volleyball, she was kind of behind the curve as far as an understanding of the game; she was a great athlete, but there was just a lot as far as skill development. That and knowledge she needed to gain.”
As Dawson showed improvement, so did the Owls. When she first arrived, the Owls were a team that won just seven games. During her time here, the Owls would go on to make their first NCAA Tournament in 2017 and win their first ever NE10 Conference title last year.
“It’s been a long journey but a really fun journey,” said Dawson. “It’s been a lot of problem solving and
work along the way, but I think it has paid off.”
Her teammate and current co-captain, Jillian Chambers, has been through most of this journey with Dawson. Chambers says she and Dawson intend to remain involved with the program.
“I can just see us Facetiming, watching the games,” said Chambers, with a smile. “I can still see us talking about the games, staying involved with the younger players. I definitely see her as a lifelong friend.”
Dawson has made a mark on the program throughout her journey, and her coach has a lot of high praise for her. “I don’t know that I would have done it,” said Barbaro regarding Dawson’s career. “I have so much respect; I’m really proud of her.”