Work ethic, positive attitude formulate Chambers’ legacy
Sam Tapper — Sports Writer
Throughout her career at Southern, volleyball senior, Jillian Chambers has become a four-year contributor, a captain, an NE10 champion and a member of the Honors’ College, accomplishing it all through determination and with a smile on her face.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that Jill always comes in with that infectious smile,” said head coach Lisa Barbaro. “She always comes in happy every day, ready to go to work.”
Chambers is one of three triplets from a family that calls Shelby Township, Mich., a community located less than 40-minutes north of Detroit, home. For Chambers, her volleyball career began at a young age with her sisters, saying they did “basically everything” together.
“We played on the same sports teams, same volleyball team in high school, same club volleyball team,” Chambers said. “So, we’ve basically done everything together, we’re all super close but we’re also very different too, I would say.”
In her high school career at Eisenhower, she and her sisters won four league titles and one district title. She was a two-time All-County selection and a two-time team MVP, also being named All-Conference her senior year.
Off the court, Chambers was a member of the National Honor Society and valedictorian of her graduating class. One of her sisters now attends the University of Michigan, the other Oakland University, also in Michigan.
Despite her close relationship with her family, describing herself as a “huge family person,” Chambers decided to go much farther from home, coming to Connecticut to go to school.
“It was definitely a big change,” Chambers said. “It’s honestly not too different, I think the main difference would be having my family there and my friends there, but then having to move to Connecticut where I didn’t know a single person and having to balance playing a sport and the Honors’ College and all of that.”
Despite the distance from her home and her family, once she discovered Southern, it was one of the few out of state colleges that Chambers had interest in, and Barbaro had reciprocating interest in the high school recruit.
Chambers said she came to Southern not just because of the volleyball program, but because of the academics, as she is currently studying communication disorders.
“I wanted to for sure play volleyball, so I was just looking at schools that had openings for my position,” said Chambers, “and then I wanted to look at a school that had good academics because obviously if you go to college: school first, sports second.”
Chambers said she found Southern’s program from a website, and after seeing the campus and meeting the coaches, she soon made up her mind.
“I ended up coming across this school on some recruiting website saying that they needed a right side, which is what I am,” Chambers said. “So, I reached out to Coach [Barbaro], and she invited me out to campus, and I guess she liked what she saw because she offered me.”
Chambers also noted, once Barbaro called her saying that she needed a decision, she committed on the spot without even telling her parents first. Though the initial news may have been a bit shocking, she says she knew her parents knew Southern was where she was going to be happy.
Once she got to Southern, she was quickly thrust into a contributing role on the court. During her freshman year, the Owls went 15-19 and did not qualify for the NE10 Tournament. That year, Chambers appeared in 78 sets, totaling 107 kills, 109 digs, 36 blocks and 137.5 total points.
“It was definitely stressful,” she said. “It was super intimidating coming in, especially being the freshman and it being my first time at the collegiate level, but it helped having four other freshmen with me at the time to go through it together. I just tried to try my best, not stress about what everyone else was thinking and just do my thing.”
From there on out, Chambers became a mainstay in the Owls rotation, though her sophomore year was in question due to her mother being diagnosed with breast cancer. Chambers says she initially did not want to play, but her mother insisted that she did.
“I’m super close with my mom; my mom is literally my best friend,” said Chambers. “She said, ‘What would make me happiest is knowing that you’re happy and doing what you love, because I’d be more upset if you stayed back just for me and are missing out because of it. You going out there and playing will make me the happiest and will give me something to look forward to and push too throughout the journey.’”
Though she was battling cancer, Chambers said her mother would do everything she could to see her daughter play. “So she would plan her chemotherapy sessions around games,” Chambers said, “and when she felt best, she was able to make it out here a few times, and she said, ‘what got me through it was knowing that I could eventually see you play.’”
Chambers has served as a captain this season with her teammate and friend, graduate student Jen Dawson. When it comes to Chambers’ leadership approach, she and Dawson both say she leads by example in all that she does.
“I would say she’s more of a lead-by-example, but will have her moments of being vocal,” Dawson said. “Her hard work on the court is definitely an example for these under classmen.”
As Chambers prepares to graduate in May, she will pursue graduate school for speech pathology. Though she does not quite know what is next, especially without volleyball, one thing she does know she will continue to do is help others and maintain her positive attitude, including that smile.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a very serious person at all; but I can be serious if needed,” Chambers said. “I just like to make people laugh and I like to make sure people are okay.”