Jones provides K-State with balance in senior season

Senior middle blocker Natali Jones gets ready to spike the ball over the net on Oct. 22, 2014 at Ahearn Field House. The Cats beat Oklahoma University 3-0. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

In a season abundant with stars on the K-State volleyball team, it’s astounding that another would emerge.

In the case of senior middle blocker Natali Jones, that is exactly what has happened.

Jones was born in Clocolan, South Africa and eventually made the move with her family from the land of Nelson Mandela and Invictus to the small, south-central community that sits about an hour and a half west of Wichita.

“My dad had worked in Pratt (Kansas) before we moved over here,” Jones said. “My parents just thought it would be a better opportunity for us as kids if we all moved, and that’s where we ended up.”

After living in the U.S. for a couple of years and seeing extended family make the trek from Pratt to Manhattan, being a Wildcat became a family affair.

“I’ve always been a fan (of K-State),” Jones said. “I love the environment. My two older brothers both graduated from here and at the time that was a big part of my decision, just kind of having that family atmosphere.”

Jones attended Skyline High School, where she fell under the tutelage of head coach Summer Younie.

Younie saw Jones run into her limitations early in her career, but also saw her refuse to let that stop her.

“She struggled with serving and she struggled in passing but man, she had a determination like I hadn’t seen,” Younie said. “No one could block her ever, she really developed into a amazing high school volleyball player.”

Jones led her team to the state tournament during her junior and senior year and was named first-team All-League twice.

From Skyline, she made the short trip to Pratt Community College and left a strong impression on coach Patrick Hall.

“I almost never say this to a kid at a JUCO, (but) we told her ‘Listen, I think you have enough ability where we can help you find a Divison I school in January after your freshman season,'” Hall said.

It’s exactly what happened for the talented middle blocker.

In her only junior college season, Jones helped lead her team to a Jayhawk West Conference championship. She earned a first-team all-conference honor and was named freshman of the year while leading her team in blocks, kills and service aces.

After the season ended she began to shop around and several high-RPI schools offered full scholarships. However, all she really wanted to do was to wear purple.

Hall got in contact with K-State head coach Suzie Fritz and after a vetting process, she made the team as a redshirt.

Jones sat out that next season and rejoined the team as a redshirt sophomore. That year’s playing time was sparse as she only played in three sets all season.

She slowly got into the mix as a junior, ending the season with 37 kills and 32 blocks in 34 sets.

In 2014, however, Jones has turned it on as she leads the Big 12 in total blocks and blocks per set.

“I’ve always been more of a defense player and for me it was working more on my offense,” Jones said. “We really sped up our quicks this spring and I like the faster tempo, so that got me going.”

Her coaches have noticed her improvement throughout her career.

“I saw a really big jump from an offensive perspective in the spring of last year. She started to do some special things as an attacker,” Fritz said. “She’s just developed in so many ways, but I think the big jump I saw was when she started to combine what she was doing as a defensive player, as a blocker, and now as an offensive player. Both those are near the same level. She’s more than one-dimensional.”

It’s that multi-dimensional gameplay that has led her to a recent experience that Jones said might be one of her best volleyball memories.

Jones was named Big 12 co-offensive player of the week on Oct. 27, which came after hitting over .600 from the floor the previous week.

On Tuesday, she received a honor that only four players in program history have received as the AVCA National Player of the Week.

“I was kind of baffled,” Jones said after she found out. “Suzie was the one that told me and I was like ‘Are you sure? Are you sure that’s me?’ It’s a great honor.”

That excitement trickled back home as her former head coach echoed the joy of the moment.

“I was so excited for her,” Younie said. “I had to Facebook her right away and tell her congratulations. My current high school team was also very excited because I got the text right before practice. So they were all super pumped.”

Even with her honors and accolades, Jones knows that the season isn’t over yet and she still has expectations for her and for the team.

“I just want to keep winning and keep improving,” Jones said. “Obviously get a Big 12 title and get a win in the tournament.”

Watching from afar, Hall said watching Jones compete at this level in Division I competition is exciting.

“The fact that she’s gone on and absolutely maxed out on her potential,” Hall said. “That’s what you hope every kid can do no matter where they go play, whether it’s K-State or an NAIA school.”

Tim Everson was born in Wichita, KS in 1994. Before fifth grade he moved up to Manhattan for one year before settling in Riley, KS where he graduated from Riley County High School in 2012. Tim has worked for the Collegian since spring of 2014 and took over as Sports Editor during the summer of 2015. Tim loves sports, music, movies and good food when he can get it.