Southwestern back row player Serena Young has known teammate Janaya Fox since they played club volleyball in the Omaha area as 9-year-olds.
So, nothing her longtime friend does surprises her.
“She likes to prove people wrong,” Yong said.
Fox, a top recruit as the record-holder at Bellevue East for career kills (605), season kills (449) and digs in a match (29) as a 6-foot outside hitter, has navigated through a few detours on her way to collegiate stardom.
Considering what she’s been through in the past year, it would have been easy to hang up the dream. But, as Yong noted, if Fox is fixated on a goal, she won’t be derailed.
Not even becoming pregnant and having a baby, just before the start of the volleyball season.
“I knew she would play,” said Yong, whose younger sister Cassidy is the national leader in set assists, thanks in part to the passes from Yong, Fox, and others in the Spartan back row. “She worked out all summer in the mornings (with trainer Jamie Belt). She was very dedicated. She knew she had to be in shape after she had the baby.”
One year ago, Fox visited the SWCC campus to watch her friend play for the Spartans. She was unhappy at Northwest Missouri State University. SWCC coach Melissa Blessington had met her on two previous visits to volleyball tournaments in Omaha, and the chemistry was immediately a hit with the college freshman looking for a change.
“She really didn’t like it there, so I said why don’t you come and visit here?” Yong said. “She came to one of our games, and said she really liked it here. I love playing with her. She’s an intense player, and a really good leader.”
Northwest coaches had harped on her about losing a lot of weight to play in their program. She was looking for a new start.
After signing with SWCC last Nov. 1 and moving to Creston to enroll at the college for the spring semester, she found losing the weight was a struggle despite extra workouts and getting nutrition advice.
One of her decisions came back to haunt her later. Because it can lead to weight gain and sometimes bring on depression symptoms, she removed a contraceptive implant in her arm.
Her advice to other girls now is “be careful,” because Fox soon paid for her decisions with a life-changing event.
“She has allergy problems, so on March 21 we went in to the doctor for some allergy medicine,” said Fox’s mother, Mary Martin. “And, we came out of the appointment with the news she was five months pregnant. We had no clue. She was not having morning sickness or any other symptoms. The doctor was as shocked as we were. They even did a second pregnancy test because they thought it was in error.”
Much farther along than when most women realize they are pregnant, there was no time to look back with regret. Martin said she saw a mature attitude taken by her daughter.
“Everybody was in shock, but she was like, ‘I have to look forward.’ If you have a good support system, you can do almost anything, and she’s proving that,” Martin said.
Kyla Jae Fox was born Aug. 22. The father, Jake Cloyd, is a football player at Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Neb. They try to arrange visits. Cloyd came to Creston last weekend, for example.
Martin is Fox’s rock, having moved to Creston with her to help her adjust to her new life as a mom, student and collegiate athlete.
“My mom has been really great,” Fox said. “I couldn’t be doing this without her.”
From her viewpoint, Martin is eternally grateful for the opportunity provided by Southwestern, especially for financial reasons. Fox is on scholarship to play for the Spartans.
“I’m disabled, with a heart condition, so I only get $980 a month,” Martin said. “When we released from Northwest, my immediate concern was how are we going to pay for (college). Then when she was pregnant, her basketball coach at Bellevue said to me, ‘Big momma, keep her in school, whatever you do.’ I told Janaya I would support her as long as she stayed in school.”
By then, Fox had already signed to play for Blessington at SWCC. Having a player become pregnant isn’t an everyday occurrence for a college coach, but she never blinked. She already had a soft spot for Fox, because as a young player she had to overcome the same label as not having “the ideal body type” for volleyball.
“I did not want to be the reason she wasn’t given a good opportunity to play in college,” Blessington said. “Some coaches, if a girl becomes pregnant, there’s no chance of playing. I didn’t want to be that person.”
Plus, the coach said, the mission of Southwestern fit Fox’s situation.
“That is what a junior college is for,” Blessington said, “to help somebody to the next level, or help somebody in a transitional period. Obviously, this wasn’t an ideal situation, but if it’s going to happen to anybody, this was a kid I wasn’t concerned about.
“She’s a good kid. The situation didn’t freak me out, because I knew she was a good kid, and that she was focused,” Blessington said. “And, I knew she had the support. She wasn’t the type to go out and party every weekend. I thought, let’s do this.”
Anxious to play
Fox wanted to return a week after the birth.
Not so fast, Martin said. First of all, she had to make living arrangements in Creston with her daughter, and there were medical reasons not to rush things.
“I said you’re crazy,” Martin said. “First of all, no doctor will release you. And second of all, I’m not ready!”
Martin left her 23-year-old son and friends in the Omaha area, and moved east with her daughter, renting a house in Creston. On Sept. 10 against Division I power Iowa Western — three weeks after giving birth — Fox was on the court for the Spartans.
“I was a little nervous,” Fox said, “just because I hadn’t played for a good two weeks. Then I started getting my rhythm back and it was good. It’s where I needed to be.”
Blessington is easing her into the rotation, using her passing ability in the back row for now. Eventually, she’ll be a presence at the net. She even got some spot duty at outside hitter during the Marshalltown Tournament three days later when teammate Allyson Kocour was injured.
Yong said team chemistry with Fox’s transition from effective assistant bench coach to player on the floor is no problem.
“Everyone knows we need her. It’s better for the team,” Yong said. “We’re looking to peak at the end of October.”
And, that’s about the time Fox should be back to her old self, “or even better,” she said.
When Southwestern takes a four-match winning streak into tonight’s regional contest at home against Ellsworth at 6:30 p.m., No. 20 will be in position to so something special, something that perhaps seemed daunting on March 21, sitting in that doctor’s office.
Meanwhile, little Kyla isn’t lacking for attention.
“We were all really excited when she brought her in,” Yong said. “We all bought her separate things. We all feed her, hold her, burp her, change diapers. It’s not like one mom, but a bunch of moms.”
Martin is the steady caregiver behind the scenes.
“It’s hard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, because Janaya is really busy in school before practice, and I don’t see her much,” Martin said. “But on Tuesdays and Thursdays she doesn’t have classes, so we’re home together.”
Because she played in a scrimmage for Northwest, Fox will not have a second year of eligibility at SWCC, but could possibly apply for a medical hardship because of documented back problems after she transfers to a four-year school next year. Martin plans to follow her in support. Despite the heavy news last spring, Fox turned in a 3.5 grade point.
“I’ll be moving on, but I don’t know where,” Fox said. “It will probably come down to who is willing to pay for it. I want to be a PE teacher and coach.”
For now, however, there’s business to attend to on the court for the Spartans. And at home with Kyla. It’s not the life of a typical 19-year-old college student.
“You can do anything if you set your mind to it,” Fox said.