By Katelyn MassarelliFor the second consecutive week, senior middle blocker Jessica Wagner and senior outside hitter Berkley Whaley were awarded Sunshine State Conference (SSC) honors; Wagner receiving Offensive Player of the Week and Whaley the Defensive Player of the Week. Wagner has been an offensive powerhouse for the four years she has played for UT, while Whaley, who transferred to UT her sophomore year from the University of Florida, has dominated the court since she started three years ago.Wagner began playing volleyball as a freshman at North Fort Myers high school.
Playing volleyball in high school was completely different from playing at the collegiate level, she says, but still helped prepare her for what was to come at UT.
“From playing in high school I learned how be able to take a role in leading by example,” Wagner said.
She began her volleyball career at UT as a freshman four years ago. Head coach Chris Catanach had intended to redshirt Wagner were it not for her getting injured during the season.
“Jess did not play much that year, but her work ethic indicated that she would be a great player,” Catanach said.
Unlike Wagner, Whaley began playing volleyball at age nine. She began her collegiate career at the University of Florida her freshman year but decided to transfer because their volleyball program was not the right fit for her. UT’s athletic reputation drew her in instantly.
“I chose UT because they always compete for titles and they are very competitive and play at a high level,” Whaley said.
As soon as Whaley transferred, it became noticeable to her coaches that she would be a “top level player,” Catanach says.
“Berkley has blossomed into the best player in Division II,” Catanach said. “Her back-to-back Defensive Player of the Week awards show that she is an all-around great player.”
Both Wagner and Whaley have been a dynamic duo that continues to dominate the court every time they step out. They act as leaders to the rest of the team and have strong work ethic, desire, and commitment as volleyball players.
“I think Berk and I both know what is expected of us out on the court and we just go out and do our job when we play,” Wagner said.
Off the court, the pair have become close over the three years they have competed together.
“We get beyond excited for each other after any point we score and I am basically her biggest fan,” Wagner said. “We both spend a lot of time together during volleyball so naturally we spend a lot of our free time together, and have a wide variety of weird inside jokes that we get stares at for.”
While their personal relationship is a huge factor for Wagner and Whaley’s chemistry on the court, they attribute all of their success to their teammates. It’s no surprise–volleyball is a team game in the truest sense.
“It takes a whole team for Jessica and I to get these awards,” Whaley said. “Our teammates create the opportunities for us to be successful and I am forever grateful for them.”
Whaley plans to graduate this year and attend graduate school to attain a master’s degree in marketing. Wagner, on the other hand, is looking to satisfy her wanderlust; planning to graduate in December and travel to Europe to play a few seasons of club volleyball. Professional club teams in Spain and France top her list of options for her professional volleyball career.
“I decided to go there and play because I still have room to grow in the sport of volleyball,” Wagner said. “I want to enjoy traveling a bit before I end up going back to school.”
Once back, she plans on taking the MCAT and attending medical school.
Being volleyball players has left Wagner and Whaley with many accomplishments over the years that they have put into their sport. Not only have they learned new techniques and skills in practice, but they now have things they can take away from their time on the team.
“I have learned a plethora of things playing at UT, too many to list but I am most proud of the relationships I have gained and the success that I have been so fortunate to be a part of,” Whaley said.