Finding a Home Away From Home on the Court


Family is everything for Jennifer Herrera, a senior and Piedmont University volleyball player. PHOTO//KARL L. MOORE

Emma Marti, Editor-In-Chief

All athletes know the feeling. Right before they step onto the court, the field or the green, anticipation, nerves and adrenaline. Athletes often can look to their family in the crowd for some reassurance and extra motivation, but some athletes look to the stands and don’t see their family. Who do they look to for support in those moments?

For senior volleyball player Jennifer, or Jenny, Herrera, this feeling is all too familiar. Living in Texas City, Texas, Herrera’s family usually cannot make it to her matches.

“It’s rare for them to be able to come in person, but when they can, they usually come one to two times a season,” says Herrera. “Usually, they are only able to come to a home game on a weekend because they work during the week and the drive from Texas to Georgia is not an easy one.”

Family has always been at the center of volleyball for Herrera. She started playing volleyball in the fifth grade, mostly because her family was able to get together and play when they had events at their home. Herrera’s mother used to play volleyball while she was in school in Mexico, so she wanted to follow in her footsteps.

“My favorite thing about volleyball is the excitement and adrenaline that comes with executing plays and saving balls that seem impossible to get to. I love how it gives me the ability to escape everything else going on in my life and just have fun with my team,” says Herrera.

Despite the distance from home, playing at an out-of-state college was always a dream of Herrera’s. After receiving an offer to play for Piedmont, Herrera toured the campus and it instantly felt like home. She found that Piedmont was a good fit both academically and athletically.

Playing almost 900 miles from home came with some difficulties Herrera didn’t anticipate.

“My freshman year, it was a bit tough because I did not have any family here and I was used to having them come support me at all my games,” said Herrera. “It took a bit of time to adjust to the new environment and being alone, but it definitely got easier as time went on.”

Herrera’s family still remains her number one supporter. Even if they cannot make it to her matches in person, they religiously watch online. No matter where they are, they will pull the game up on their phones to support her.

One family member joining in cheering on – her brother, Luis Herrera, has coached his sister in the past. Luis has gotten to watch his sister grow not only as a person but as an athlete.

“Getting to coach my own sister was a great experience,” said Luis. “She is the one who got me into the sport and into coaching the sport. After her own school or club practices, she would want to keep training, which allowed us to spend that extra time together. The want to learn and improve always came from her, and I never felt like I needed to push her more than what she was already pushing herself.”

Seeing Jenny on and off the court has proven that while she is a laidback person, she is extremely driven and fearless, according to her brother. Getting to watch Jenny play volleyball growing up has given Luis many fond memories of his sister.

“My favorite memories from watching her volleyball career have been seeing her obtain the goals she sets for herself. Going from a private school to a public high school and trying out for the volleyball team, her goal was to make the freshmen team. She ended up making junior varsity, then moved up to varsity as a freshman. One of her biggest goals was to travel. Through volleyball and her hard work in the sport, she has had that opportunity to travel and play the sport she loves,” says Luis.

“I always love watching her play. Especially when she fearlessly dives for a ball and goes for it, we always reminisce about times when she just hits the floor and picks up the ball or runs into the stands of spectators and is able to save the ball. I will always be one of her number one fans.”

Junior outside hitter Reagan Mercado met Herrera in her freshman year at Piedmont. Mercado says that Herrera is, “a very strong and useful player. Ask any of the hitters about how strong of a setter she is, and all of them will say she’s beyond exceptional, and a huge asset to our team. She not only is good at setting but puts in extra effort to know and memorize how all 17 hitters like their sets.”

After knowing Herrera for as long as she has, Mercado has gotten to watch Herrera grow as not only a player but a person. When it comes to her family being out of state, Mercado believes it makes Herrera stronger.

“I think having her family be out of state makes her mentality stronger because she knows they are there supporting her from the live stream,” says Mercado.

After playing volleyball for as long as she has, Herrera has made some incomparable memories with her team. Whether that be during her time at Piedmont or playing growing up, Herrera experienced things she never would have been able to without the sport.

“My favorite memories at Piedmont are probably our Halloween practices,” says Herrera. “We get to dress up in costumes and attempt to practice in them. A favorite memory from playing volleyball before playing at Piedmont was when I went to Costa Rica to play internationally and help host volleyball camps for the children in San Jose. While in Costa Rica, I got to see the rainforest, go ziplining and eat some amazing food. This was probably the best experience I have ever had.”

Despite the hardships that come from being almost 14 hours away from home, Herrera loves the memories she has been able to make with her team through volleyball.

“I enjoy traveling with my team and creating memories with them that I will be able to cherish forever. The support of my team, friends and their families has helped me find comfort in playing so far away from home,” says Herrera. “Being a senior is a bittersweet feeling. I am sad that my career is coming to an end, but it is also an amazing feeling looking back at how far I have come from when I first stepped foot on a volleyball court. I am so grateful for the friendships I’ve formed with my teammates. Piedmont women’s volleyball has become my second family, and I am so lucky to have them by my side.”