Friday, December 6, 2013

Shift in Attitude Led to Success for Courtney and the Dolphins

Winston Churchill once said that attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

Jacksonville senior Kendall Courtney and her Dolphins personify that statement, as they concluded a record-setting 2013 season in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Championship Thursday evening. The Dolphins fell to fifth-seeded Florida 3-0, but completed an amazing 2013 season in which they enjoyed a list of impressive accomplishments, including a turnaround from 10-24 overall (7-11 A-Sun) in 2012 to 30-4 overall and 16-2 in A-Sun play this season.
It is fitting that Courtney led the team in assists with 24 as she concluded her collegiate career against the Gators. Leading the team statistically is nothing new for Courtney, as she has led the Dolphins statistically and been among the conference leaders in each of her four years at JU. She has also garnered A-Sun Academic honors all four years along with All-Conference Second-Team and Player of the Week honors this season.

Courtney admits that as a younger player her expectations for herself and her team were high.

"I set pretty high goals for myself coming into the program, because I am hard to please," said Courtney.

As a freshman, she earned A-Sun All-Academic honors and was named to the Dean’s List. She was the only player to start in all 30 matches in 2010 and led the team in assists (1,095), service aces (50) and double-doubles (assists & digs) with seven.

In her sophomore season, in which she was a captain, Courtney was again an A-Sun All-Academic selection and was named to the President's Honor Roll. On the court she started in all 31 matches and led the A-Sun in overall assists (1,222) and ranked second in service aces (54).

Individually Courtney was achieving, but it was not translating into success for the team. ""In my first two seasons, my goals were centered around my personal play, and that didn't work out too well," she says. "I was captain my sophomore year, and I really struggled with that too."

In Courtney's junior season Michelle Collier was hired as head coach of the Dolphins, bringing with her the philosophy of "team first" that has pervaded the program and propelled JU to its place among the nation's leaders in team - not individual - statistical categories. Courtney points to that event as the turning point for both her attitude and that of the team.

"Michelle brings a lot of energy and passion to the game, and she really makes you look forward to practice," said Courtney. "She really turned things around. Before she arrived I had gotten to the point where I really didn't look forward to practice and had lost some of my excitement for the game, but all that changed. I changed my attitude toward everything about volleyball, and she has shown us what an opportunity this is and how rare it is to be able to compete like we have at the Division I level."

Courtney's success has been well documented, and Collier is quick to point out how fortunate she was to inherit a player like her. As a junior she was one of two Dolphins to play in all 127 sets and was once again recognized academically by membership on the A-Sun Academic All-Conference team. On the court she led JU and ranked fifth in the A-Sun with 1,211 assists and ranked first on the team in digs (355) and second in aces (24).

Kendall considers herself a player that leads by example, and says the change in attitude was also adopted by her teammates, something that not only led her to individual success but to her team's success as well.

"When we bought into what Michelle was trying to accomplish, that really helped put it all together," says Courtney. "I changed my attitude, and I really think that my leadership has improved the most in the last two years. 

As a senior, the 2013 season has been a memorable one. She competed in 126 sets, starting in all 34 matches. She became the Atlantic Sun career leader in service aces after JU's win over North Florida on Oct. 10 and finishes her career with 168. She earned selection as the 2013 Atlantic Sun Tournament MVP and membership to the All-Tournament team, along with A-Sun All-Conference Second Team honors. She earned her first career Player of the Week nod on Sept. 4, and wrapped up the season as the eighth-ranked career active leader in the NCAA in assists.

"This season was unexpected to me," says Courtney. "Not to say that the past three years have been disappointing, but the program was not where I had hoped it would be. This season has been a total team effort, because we have a tremendous team chemistry and we are all on the same page."

Collier credits Courtney for her change in attitude, but is also quick to point out that much of her success also comes from a well defined work ethic and passion for the game.

"Kendall is a rare kind of player," says Collier. "We share a love and passion for the game, and that helps us see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.

"She is also an extremely hard worker, one who not one day would ask for anything special or a break in anything, and she would go through a wall for this team if we asked her to. That has earned her a great deal of respect from her coaches and teammates. She is more patient with other players now because her focus is about the team, and she has become a great role model because of that.

"Kendall is basically a regurgitation of what this program is all about," Collier concludes. "It is hard to find a player like her."

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