Irvine Valley freshman volleyball player Jayli Nealy leads her team in kills, points per set, and total blocks (Courtesy photo)

Jayli Nealy has been making the Irvine Valley women’s volleyball team a contending force. They go into the postseason with a 16-5 overall record and a 12-4 record in the Orange Empire Conference.

She helped the team lead the conference in kills per set (11.84). Their total of 1041 kills ranks them at second in the category while they come in third in the conference in points per set with 15.5.

Nealy currently leads the team with 273 kills, 70 total blocks and 4.2 points per set. Her 32 percent in kills ranks her among the top 20 volleyball players in the state. Earlier this month, Nealy was currently named the California Community College Women’s Volleyball Coaches Association State Co-Player of the Week and the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Player of the Week.

A key step in her development was playing club volleyball for a team in Santa Monica. The instructors put her under intense training that prepared her for uncomfortable situations that she is now facing at the junior college level.

“They were really hard on me,” Nealy said. “Even though I was sensitive at first and I couldn’t take constructive criticism, I learned to adapt and be a coachable player.”

To prepare for her stint at Irvine Valley, she worked with her club coach to improve different aspects of her game. She also trained with IVC women’s volleyball head coach Ryan Windisch, her then perspective teammates and fellow Lasers.

“[Windisch] had us playing with the men’s volleyball players,” Nealy said. “I think that really helped because I was playing with men who were obviously more physical than me … we had to play on a higher net, so that was a good challenge to set the tone really high.”

Nealy knows that academics are an important part of getting offers from four-year institutions. She is studying sociology and plans to major in Kinesiology when she transfers.

“The volleyball aspect is the easy part for me. The challenging part was the student part,” Nealy said. “But now that I have so many resources at Irvine Valley and I have so many people that can help me through whatever I need help with.”

The women’s volleyball team is a close-knit group, Nealy’s experience with them inspired her to pursue a career in physical therapy. The team started with a fully healthy roster but as players began sustaining injuries, Nealy became concerned for and empathetic towards her teammates.

“Just seeing what they go through being injured and knowing that if they could be on the court right now that they would be,” Nealy said. “That really opened my eyes, I kind of was interested more in helping them and being there for them. I think that was what made me want to be a physical therapist.”

Over the summer, Nealy took a class called the theory of coaching which became her favorite class.

“It was about coaching and how coaches see things from their perspective,” she said. “We had different assignments where we would make practice plans for our sport.”

Nealy knows her team has what it takes to excel in the playoffs.

“We have a lot of grit and we’re very scrappy and we don’t give up easy,” she said. “I think that will really just help us skyrocket through playoffs.”