Former Lady Eagle’s winning cancer battle helped by sand volleyball
As the Nicholls State University volleyball team struggled through a 3-26 season last fall, one could guarantee that at least one of its players had that adversity put into perspective.
Katie Jones, entering her redshirt sophomore season in the upcoming season and a 2017 graduate of Barbers Hill High School, would know something about perspective.
Considering she survived a battle with cancer, Jones has embraced the sport and life as she moves forward into her college career at Thibodaux, Louisiana.
It also helps she has been able to play beach volleyball as the Colonels have added the sport and wrapped its first year, albeit hobbling to an 0-18 mark.
For Jones, she just enjoys playing no matter what.
“I love it a lot,” Jones said. “I love the different atmosphere – it is so different than indoor. You don’t get coached the whole time when you play the games. You have to coach yourself, you have to motivate yourself. It helped me to be more charismatic and a caring player that wants my teammate to do well.”
Jones didn’t play her first year at Nicholls State and even found herself unsure how things would shake out after being diagnosed with Hodgins Lymphoma Stage 2 that summer before she matriculated over to Louisiana.
To top it off, she felt good about her chances to play right out of the gate for a program that was coming off an 8-24 season and expected Jones to help change the narrative.
“I was very excited and ready to go to be a part of that,” Jones said. “It was around June and there was something that I felt on my left shoulder, my left collarbone. It was like a swollen marble. It was my lymph node actually. I went to my mom because she had had the same cancer I had.
“I went to the hospital and they told me it was cancer after a couple of tests. I didn’t know where to go from there.”
A teenage girl who now found her life in jeopardy and the thought of losing her hair as a result of this diagnosis just put her life into a new mode of wondering what next.
“I had this long hair and I was ready to go (to college),” Jones said. “Then I thought what was I going to tell my college coach. I also didn’t now what stage it was, because I really hadn’t been told that. I needed a pet scan to see where I was. I didn’t know how long a toll it would take on my body.
“It all sent me into a whirlwind for a couple of weeks.”
After telling her coach about her battle, Jones and her family decided to let her move to Louisiana and not two days in, she came down ill.
“I decided to go home and come back in the spring,” she said. “Having to drop everything and come back home was very upsetting. But I was glad to do this with my family and not just myself.”
Jones is now a year-and-a-half in remission and slowly built her way back into volleyball shape, but the cloud is still there.
“It’s definitely scary,” Jones said. “With Hodgins Lymphoma it could be back, you never know. It’s going to be stressful for the rest of my life.
“It put things in perspective for me and that I have this life. It’s a very curable cancer with a 98 percent cure rate if you catch it in time. I am very thankful for that.”
Then she got her game in gear and played last fall after rebuilding her body and musculature.
“I am not where I was and where I want to be, but I am so much better,” Jones said.
She completed her official freshman season with 10 starts and ended up with 150 kills, 2.24 kill-per-set with a .157 hitting percentage while averaging 2.38 points-per-set for a solid first year.
Then the university brought in beach volleyball and many of the indoor players were able to play both and many will in the future, with eventually beach-only recruits potentially dotting the roster.
Jones would like to play both.
“I love it, it helped me get into better shape,” Jones said. “It’s definitely a better workout. I had played on two separate occasions before that and that’s what it. It was definitely scared when I was going into beach where there were rules and there were refs. It was definitely different than a pickup a game in the neighborhood.
“I played middle in high school and have been transitioning to an outside hitter so I knew I had to be able to pass on the outside. You have got to pass. So, it definitely helped with my ball control. I can definitely see myself being a six-rotation player because I see the court pretty well and I have adapted pretty well. Maybe not this season, but moving forward, developing my skills and playing more on the beach, I can definitely see myself in that position.”
The Colonels head coach noticed the work and the improvement Jones has made.
“Katie had a great spring indoor and sand season,” Kallie Noble said. “Her will to win on and off the court is incredible. I anticipate in the fall she will compete hard for one of the outside positions.”
Jones recently went back inside to play and she can see the byproduct of the beach work on her passing, movement and communication skills.
“In beach you can’t not saying anything because there are only two players,” she said. “I am pretty shy, so it definitely helped me branch out and help my teammate when they are struggling.”
Beach has come to Jones as she starts a new life in the sand, cancer free.
“Beach has helped me and I’ve grown because of it,” Jones said. “It’s so much fun and you get so much out of it.”