It’s a sequence Bluejay volleyball fans love to watch: senior Ali Jost makes an incredible dig, senior Megan Voth smoothly sets the ball into the air and junior Jessanna Nebel slams it home for a Bluejay point.
But long before Jost, Voth and Nebel were making saves and scoring points for the Tabor College volleyball team, they were building friendships as teammates in both school and club volleyball programs.
The three Bluejay starters are all graduates of Hesston High School, and even before donning their Swather jerseys, they discovered a passion for volleyball at a young age.
A love for the game
All three grew up watching their sisters play volleyball, which sparked an early interest in the sport.
“Meg and I have literally been playing volleyball together since we were in fourth grade,” Jost said. “We grew up going to our sisters’ games because they were both in the same grade.”
The young girls tried to spend as much time as they could on the court.
“During warm up lines, we would shag balls,” Voth said. “We were like a part of the team. The girls would jump out of line and give us high fives every single time.”
Voth and Jost began playing competitively together when they joined a club team in sixth grade. Nebel, who is a year younger, also began playing club volleyball in sixth grade.
“My mom basically just signed me up for volleyball, because I was into soccer at that point,” she said. “She told me that once I started playing volleyball, it would become my favorite sport. So I played one season of club, and it did become my favorite sport.”
The trio continued playing on various club teams throughout middle and high school in addition to playing on the school team. During their sophomore year of high school, Voth and Jost played on a club team coached by Tabor’s head volleyball coach, Amy Ratzlaff.
As Swathers, the three student athletes were led by Hesston High School head volleyball coach, Jason Peters.
“Coach Peters knew that we were all such good friends, and he always encouraged us to play further into college,” Voth said. “He knew we had the talent, and he supported us big time.”
While the girls were involved in other sports during high school, such as basketball, softball and track, volleyball continued to be their favorite.
“Volleyball was definitely the sport I had the most passion for,” Voth said. “In volleyball, I took losing way more to heart than I did in the other sports.”
During Voth and Jost’s senior year of high school and Nebel’s junior year, the Swather team lost in a heartbreaker during the final round of sub-state play.
“That was the worst feeling in my athletic career at that point,” Voth said. “When we lost, I just didn’t want to give it up yet. I loved it the most.”
All roads lead to Tabor
Voth, Jost and Nebel each took a different path to end up at Tabor College.
Voth is the only one of the three Bluejays who came to Tabor as a freshman.
“When I came on my visit during my senior year of high school, I practiced with the team and I loved all of the girls,” Voth said. “I didn’t want to go far away from home, and I knew Coach Amy, too. It felt very natural.”
Jost, on the other hand, chose to play volleyball at Cowley College.
“I knew I wanted to play volleyball in college since I started club,” she said. “I didn’t go here first, but Megan was here and it was just an easy choice to come here after two years. When I played with the team for the first time, I felt very welcomed and I never felt out of place.”
Nebel spent her first two years of college at Hesston College and is a fresh transfer this year.
“I always knew I would go to Hesston College first,” she said. “Everyone in my family did, and it was a great fit. I was familiar with the volleyball program before I ever got to campus.”
Hesston is a two-year school, so when it came time for Nebel to transfer, she said Tabor was an easy choice.
“Tabor was close to my family and I had friends here,” she said. “I knew Tabor is competitive in the conference, which I was excited about. And I was also going to be able to play a role on the team, which I wanted to do.”
This season is the first season Voth, Jost and Nebel have played together competitively in three years. All three start for Tabor and are on the court together for a few rotations.
Jost plays in the back row as libero while Voth sets and Nebel is an outside hitter. Even though Jost and Nebel are playing different positions than they did in high school, the trio’s history has helped them build a deep level of trust in each other.
“I know every time I get a defensive ball up that Megan is going to be there,” Jost said. “I know where she’s at all the time.”
Nebel added, “Ali is right behind me when I’m hitting, and she’ll tell me where to hit every time and I trust it.”
Voth said their long history of playing together has also helped her know each one’s tendencies while on the court, which is helpful in the setter’s position.
“It’s just so natural to play with each other,” Jost said. “The passion of the game and playing every day is so much easier when you play with the same people for so many years. We’ve never had issues with each other.”
Jost, Voth and Nebel have all posted some impressive stats during their time at Tabor so far. Jost has tallied 1,396 digs, while Voth has 1,911 total assists and Nebel has 247 kills during her first season as a Bluejay.
The Tabor volleyball team finished regular season play Nov. 3 with a season record of 22-9 and a conference record of 17-5.
The Bluejays will enter the KCAC tournament as a No. 3 seed and will begin pool play in Hutchinson on Thursday, Nov. 9.
Jost and Voth got a taste of nationals last season when the team was the first team from Tabor to reach that level. This year, their goal is to make another trip to Sioux City, Iowa.
Beyond volleyball, though, the three hope to remain lifelong friends.
“I hope to be friends with these two long after volleyball is over and after we graduate,” Voth said, while Nebel and Jost nodded in agreement.
Jost added, “We just enjoy each other’s presence. We’re not just teammates—we’re friends, too.”