Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
First it was a broken shin in 2012. Then the rod needed to be replaced in 2014 in her right leg. A couple years later, it was a torn ACL and meniscus in her left knee.
That was the latest in a series of injuries senior middle blocker Jaelyn Jackson overcame as she battled depression throughout her volleyball career.
Jackson, a South Chesterfield, Virginia, native, wanted to be far away from home when she left for college in 2014, so she decided to attend Baylor. While playing in Waco, Texas, Jackson had to redshirt her freshman year because of a new rod in her leg.
Missing her freshman year on the floor made it hard for Jackson while at Baylor. But she says not feeling appreciated on the team worsened her depression.
“I was super depressed at Baylor, and it made it really hard to want to play volleyball or come back [from injury],” Jackson said.
Jackson knew after recovering from her injury she would return to the same thing, not feeling appreciated or wanted at Baylor. She says it made her tougher mentally.
“If I got injured today I’d bounce back quick because they [VCU] need me,” Jackson said. “I have a reason to want to come back now and I think that was just a lesson I had to learn.”
Jackson has a competitive spirit, but battling through her injuries was not a competition for her. She said she didn’t feel like a competition back then; it felt like she was getting beaten down “unmercifully” and couldn’t come back from it.
“And that’s where it got difficult,” Jackson said. “Not only did I not believe in myself, no one else did either.”
Two people did believe in Jackson: her parents, and they were constantly motivating her to return to volleyball. She told them every time she wanted to quit, but they remained supportive of her and wanted her to play again.
Jackson said she has a “competitive itch” that she has to scratch. During her final season at Baylor, she was able to scratch that itch after a couple players went down with injuries.
“That re-jogged my memory of what competing felt like, because I wasn’t going to play my fifth year,” Jackson said. “I was just like ‘forget it.’ But I don’t know, I just didn’t want to let it go.”
Jackson finished her career at Baylor appearing in 32 matches and recording 130 kills and 115 blocks. In 2017, she only appeared in one match, playing in one set.
After her senior season at Baylor, Jackson decided to leave.
“I wanted to be close to home,” Jackson said of her decision to transfer to VCU. “I wanted an experience that was opposite of Baylor, not that I had an awful, terrible time there, but I didn’t feel wanted there.”
Jackson said her parents missed her more than she thought they would when she left for Baylor, and by attending VCU, she would be closer to them, just like they wanted.
“I just felt like I was supposed to be here.” — Jaelyn Jackson
Fellow graduate transfer, redshirt-senior middle blocker Kat Young, plays alongside Jackson on the front row.
“Jaelyn’s a very fiery player,” Young said. “I love playing next to her and I think we feed well of off each other. She’s also a very supportive teammate, very empathetic, here-for-you kind of person.”
On the court this season, Jackson had to fill the shoes of Tori Baldwin, who graduated last year as the all-time leading blocker in program history. Coach Jody Rogers said Jackson stepped right into the role, playing well in a challenging position.
“Her leadership has been great,” Rogers said. “On teams you need leadership to be successful, and she’s brought both of those tangibles to our program.”
This season, Jackson has logged 58 kills and 57 blocks, appearing in every match.
Rogers said that the strength and performance staff at VCU has helped Jackson and other athletes with injury prevention and recovery.
“Her work ethic is incredible, but she also takes care of her body,” Rogers said. “I really think it’s a combination of the strength performance team that we have at VCU that works so great with our student athletes.”
Rogers said it’s beneficial for Jackson to be at a university where the strength performance team is “paramount.” And Jackson says the kindness of the coaching staff was a big reason she chose VCU.
“I just felt like I was supposed to be here,” Jackson said.