From an E. coli outbreak to injuries that shuffled players to different positions each match, the Mercer Island volleyball team learned firsthand what it means to overcome adversity—while still beating every opponent in the KingCo 2A/3A league.
One of the Islanders key weapons is Jemma Yeadon. Traditionally an outside hitter, the junior helped her team win last year’s state championship. At 5-foot-8, Yeadon can jump; her max is 10-foot-1, and she is shooting for 10-foot-5. She’s leading the team with 178 digs.
This year, she’s hit hard in just two matches, both against Bellevue, but the rest of the season, she’s moved between libero, opposite, and outside hitter with limited balls set to her. Yeadon injured her shoulder with a stress reaction in February, and didn’t want to reinjure it before playoffs.
“We know that we need her to be playing outside in the postseason,” said Coach Susan McKay. “Luckily we have enough depth on the team that we didn’t necessarily need her playing outside to win.”
Yeadon said she’s been going to a new physical therapist, and is planning to go full force for the state championship.
Moved into a defensive role, McKay said the switch increased Yeadon’s technical knowledge of the game, which will be a plus when she moves back to outside hitter.
“Playing libero she’s actually anticipating where she’s supposed to be and reading the offense on the other side,” said McKay. “She’s actually is in the right place not just by athletic prowess, but because she’s where she’s supposed to be.”
Due to an ineligibility issue, Mercer Island forfeited six early season matches, but will still take second in KingCo. The Islanders will play Juanita Thursday in the KingCo tournament, the first step to qualifying for the state tournament.
We caught up with Yeadon about playing libero, taking state, and falling back in love with volleyball after her injury.
You’ve bounced around from outside hitter to libero to opposite. What was that transition like for you?
Ever since I’ve been playing I’ve been more of a six rotation player, so I’ve had to pass. It isn’t something that’s totally different. But I’ve never had to pass with such emphasis on my passing. I’ve always focused more on my hitting, and definitely playing libero it made me understand and appreciate how important my passing is.
Did you ever miss being up at the front of the net and pounding out kill after kill?
Yeah, every game. But I can almost live through my teammates and seeing them gets kills, which is just as good. But I definitely missed it and I’m glad to be hitting now.
When you injured your shoulder, you were out for six months. How did that impact you as a player?
This injury, I do believe made me want to play in college even more, because it made me realize how I really do not want to live without volleyball, and it just gave me the desire to want to be better. I definitely used it as a learning experience, and I’m just so much more about the mental side of volleyball and the technical side than just hitting hard and being able to jump high. I definitely learned why we do things and what things have to be done. How to sharpen my mind to know where the block is or how to read the block better or know where I need to hit. It made me a better player and a better teammate, because I had to play the sidelines, and I had to learn that my only contribution was my voice. It’s definitely helped with the leadership role that I’m playing now.
Your freshman year of high school you played with your older sister on the team. What was that like for you?
Coming in freshman year and having my sister play with me, it smoothed that transition so much more. She was a hitter, and also a libero, so she knows how to pass, and is someone who understands my position and gives me constant feedback and understands what I’m going through. Someone who I have at home to ask, ‘What can I do in the games,’ and having that feedback, always coming from a loving place.
Your team has gone through a lot with the E. coli outbreak, injuries, and recently the team had to forfeit six games due to an ineligible player. How did your team bounce back from that?
When hearing the news that we couldn’t be KingCo champions or win our league, in the moment, you’re in awe. Is this really happening? We’ve worked so hard. Then we regrouped as a team, and we had that grieving period where we talked about it, and then we got all of it out of the way. We’re going to do everything we can now to prove that we should have been KingCo champions, and we’re going to do everything now to prove we have goals beyond KingCo. We’re not going to let the adversities, or anything, any errors stop us.