Jessica Vaden didn’t predict she would spend four years on the Temple varsity volleyball team. That was never on her to-do list as a child.
What was certain years before she stepped foot on a high school campus was that she wanted to be on the court making plays and celebrating with teammates.
It was a covenant she made with herself, and nothing was going to break it.
“I’ve just always been around the game for as long as I can remember,” Temple’s 5-foot-10, senior outside hitter said. “I always liked how the older girls would treat me when I was little and I remember thinking that I wanted to be a part of that.
“I knew from a very young age that I wanted to play volleyball.”
Vaden credits her aunt — Tem-Cats head coach JoAnna Vaden — for stoking her initial interest in volleyball. Jessica recalls long car rides with her grandparents to see JoAnna coach at her previous stops, not realizing that one day she herself would be on the court, heeding instruction from her aunt.
“I just remember that little bitty, curly, blonde-headed child would come with my parents to my games,” JoAnna said. “She always wanted to be on the court. As she continued to grow, she would always have a ball in her hands. Anytime we weren’t on the court, she was bugging my varsity girls to play with her.”
JoAnna took over as head coach of the Tem-Cats at the start of last season, and Jessica, who had always envisioned herself as a role player in the background, was pushed by her aunt in ways that she hadn’t experienced before. While JoAnna saw the potential Jessica possessed, it didn’t make the tough love any easier to handle.
“She’s hard on me,” Jessica said. “When she first got here, that was something I had to work on because she would get after me and I would have trouble handling her critiques. It took me a while to realize that she wants me to be the best that I can be and that’s why she pushes me.”
The two share a strong bond and hold nothing but respect for each other. They also do their best to keep the player-coach relationship at school. According to JoAnna, it doesn’t always happen.
“It bled over a little bit,” JoAnna said. “We didn’t always leave volleyball away from home, but we’re both very passionate about the game. I know how good she can be and I never wanted her to think she could not try her hardest because I was here.”
Now a senior, Jessica (133 kills, 90 digs, 19 aces) is having her most productive year for Temple and is focused on leading the Tem-Cats’ five sophomores through the rigors of varsity volleyball.
“The transition to varsity is very difficult,” Jessica said. “I’ve tried to keep everyone positive and be the best leader I can be.”
Jessica said she won’t pursue playing college volleyball and wants to focus on becoming a pediatrician, so getting back to the playoffs is the main goal this season. When she walks off the court for the last time, she wants it to be on the postseason stage.
“To go to playoffs my senior year would be amazing,” said Jessica, who was part of Temple’s playoff team as a sophomore. “It’s not something that everyone gets to experience, and to do it with this team would be just amazing.”
With only one district match in the books, there is a lot of volleyball still to be played. Jessica believes the Tem-Cats (8-14, 0-1 District 12-6A) have what it takes to reach the playoffs, which would be the ultimate send-off.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough climb up to playoffs,” Jessica said. “I feel like we have a good shot if we step up and play to our level.”