Encouraged by her mom, grandmother and coach, this Sea-Hawk has become one the best players in the AUS
Chantel Jones of the Memorial Sea-Hawks led the Atlantic University Sport women's volleyball conference in attack percentage in 2010-11 and was an academic All-Canadian. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Taking inspiration from her mother, grandmother and especially her coach, Memorial Sea-Hawks' volleyball star Chantel Jones is fashioning a good life in her adopted St. John's and has grown in strength through a series of trials.
Reluctant at first to get involved in the game in this province after failing to make her Grade 7 team in Ontario, Jones persevered and now, in her fourth year, is among the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference leaders in hitting percentage, blocks, kills and points.
Originally from Thunder Bay, Jones moved to Newmarket, Ont. when she was in Grade 4, then moved to St. John's with her mom as a 13-year-old.
Her mother joined the Navy and moved to Halifax when Jones was in Grade 12.
"I debated going back to Thunder Bay when my mom had to move, but I loved it here," she said. "Plus, I had volleyball and made some really incredible friends."
While she doesn't have any biological family in St. John's, Jones said she considers the people she lives with as family.
"They are amazing people who have done so much for me and made life a lot easier especially with being a student-athlete," she said.
Jones said her biggest inspirations are her mother and grandmother.
"My grandmother is the kindest, most caring woman in this world who would do anything, and has done everything, for her family," she said.
"If I'm ever feeling down, she's the first person I call and I always hang up the phone with a smile on my face. I don't think she gets enough credit for the strength she has, I don't even think she realizes it herself, but she's really one of the strongest women I know.
"She has given me many words of advice over the years, but the one thing she always says, 'Never say I can't. There's no such thing as I can't' and it's so true. After all, I thought I couldn't make the volleyball team and here I am today."
Jones described her mother as, "an incredibly strong woman in different ways and that is what I look up to her for ... the things she has fought through and done for my siblings and I as a single mother is admirable to say the least."
You get more than a hint that Jones was a bit of a project when she first connected with Sea-Hawks' coach Bill Thistle.
"She has incredible maturity," said Thistle. "She has faced hardship and, though not a natural athlete, she's worked hard to the point she's now one of the best middles in the AUS.
"Her compete level is very high and she comes to play every match," said Thistle of Jones, who led the AUS in attack percentage last year and was also an academic All-Canadian.
Thistle said "her immense love the game," is obvious.
Jones is an athlete who appreciates her coach.
She said Thistle has probably had more of an impact on her life than most people.
Thistle has coached Jones in junior high, in high school at Bishops College and now at the university level.
"I didn't make the volleyball team in Ontario," said Jones, "(so) when I moved here and my mom really wanted me to try out for the team at Beaconsfield Junior High. I really didn't want to deal with rejection all over again.
"It was getting really close to the tryout time and I ended up feeling really guilty for not wanting to go, so I sucked it up and rushed to the school to make it in time for tryouts.
"Bill told me the second I walked in the gym I was on the team simply because I was probably about 5-foot-9 or 5-10 and only in the eighth grade. He certainly had his work cut out for him, though," she said.
Jones was nicknamed "Noodle" by Thistle because she was uncoordinated, lanky, weak and had a long way to go.
"I also had enough sauce for an Italian restaurant," she adds with a laugh.
"I talked back to him nonstop," she admitted. "My attitude was disgusting.
"I will never forget the day he pulled me aside in practice and told me I could be an amazing player. but my attitude had to change because I'd get nowhere with it."
Surprisingly, she said, "I actually listened. I think what did it was that no one had ever told me I could be amazing at anything, besides my grandmother, and I could tell he really did care about me. He gained so much respect from me that day."
Jones gives Thistle credit for helping her develop into a top player. But he's done more than that, she says.
"Bill has made me the person I am today. I've always been a really independent person ... it's how I was raised, but everyone needs words of encouragement sometimes and Bill has made me feel better about myself more than anyone ever has," Jones said.
"He doesn't only tell me that I'm a great player, but he constantly reminds me that I'm a great person and am going to do amazing things in my life.
"He's told me more than anyone in my life how proud he is of me.
"I don't even think he realizes just how much of an impact he has had on my life, and I can't think of the day when he's no longer my coach."