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Double Take

October 08, 2013
 | 
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

The volleyball team hosts LSU on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a nationally-televised match (ESPNU). It is "Fish Camp" night, where all members of the Class of 2017 are admitted free when wearing their camp T-shirt.

DOUBLE TAKE

Jazzmin Babers transforms game as she reaches a new level in the SEC

by Brian Davis '01
12th Man Magazine


Laurie Corbelli could not believe her eyes.

While scouting prospects at a Tour of Texas tournament in Spring in 2011, the Texas A&M head volleyball coach was witnessing something she had never seen before in her 28 years on the recruiting trail.

“I don’t think anyone could believe it,” the longtime Aggie coach said. “The talk around the court was, ‘Can you believe her?’ I don’t think I have ever seen such a metamorphosis of a player in a matter of weeks. ‘That’s Jazzmin Babers?’”

"We were really just visiting A&M for fun on the way home, and I fell in love with it. I didn’t think I was going to. Everyone was so nice and friendly, and I loved the coaches."

- Jazzmin Babers

Indeed, it was the junior from Waco Midway High School, but she barely resembled the inexperienced prospect with average jumping ability whom Corbelli had seen play only a few months earlier. In fact, the improbable performance moved Babers from somewhere among the Aggies’ top 10 middle blocker prospects to the pinnacle of Corbelli’s wish list at the position.

“She had doubled her jump and her speed,” Corbelli recalled. “Her blocking was the most incredible, across the net, of any girl in that entire convention center.

“I texted my assistant and said, ‘You are not going to believe this, but I have a No. 1 blocker. It’s a no brainer.’ It was pretty exciting.”

Babers was born in La Habra, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. While volleyball is in her blood—her mother, Susan, played college volleyball for legendary coach Dave Shoji at the University of Hawaii—Babers grew up surrounded by another sport. Her father, Dino, played football at the University of Hawaii and has been a college football coach for more than 25 years.

Dino Babers’ climb up the coaching ladder has including positions at San Diego State, Arizona, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Baylor as well a two-year stint as an assistant at Texas A&M during the end of R.C. Slocum’s tenure. Football coaches typically move often—especially at the college level—and life for the Babers family was no different. But it’s an experience that Jazzmin Babers cherishes.

“It was awesome,” she said. “It has made me more adaptable. And I have friends all over the U.S., which is really cool.”

No matter where they were, Jazzmin Babers, who usually goes by “Jazz,” and her three sisters—Breeahnah, Tasha and Paris—grew up as their dad’s biggest fans. Their grandmother even sowed them the matching cheerleader outfits to help them prove it.

Despite Susan Babers’ background in volleyball, she never pushed her daughters into playing the sport. She barely even mentioned her playing days while the girls were growing up.

“She wanted us to pick whatever we wanted to do,” Jazzmin Babers said. “She was open to whatever.”

That led Jazzmin Babers to the soccer field long before she eventually found herself on a volleyball court. In fact, she did not start playing volleyball until her freshman year at Waco Midway High School. And while she loved soccer, she was 6-feet tall and growing.

Following her freshman year, Babers decided that she wanted to join a better club team to improve her skills. That led her down I-35 to Austin Juniors—one of the premier volleyball clubs in the nation. But if she and her mother were going to make the 100-mile trip back and forth for volleyball, Babers was going to have to give up the first sport she loved.

“I missed soccer, but I fell in love with volleyball, too,” she said. “And I’m tall, so I figured I might as well use my height for something.”

Volleyball started out as something that was just fun to do until college coaches began recruiting Babers at the beginning of her sophomore year.

“I was not expecting that,” she admitted. “Once that started coming on and I went to Austin Juniors, I began thinking, ‘This is awesome.’ I was ready to do whatever I needed to keep playing in college.”

She joined Austin Juniors in 2010, and along with future Texas A&M teammates Angela Lowak and Sierra Patrick, Babers helped lead the club to the 2011 USA Junior National Championship 17 Open Division title. Her 18s team placed fifth at nationals in 2012.

Back in Waco, Babers was a three-year varsity starter at Midway, helping lead the Panthers to a district championship each season. She was named first-team all-district as a junior and earned all-state honors from the Texas Girls Coaches Association as a senior despite missing the latter part of the season following shoulder surgery for a torn labrum.

Considering she had already lived all over the map, it’s no surprise that Babers had similar feelings about where to continue playing volleyball in college. That began to change when she stopped by a familiar place on the way back to Waco after an official visit to Rice.

"There’s not a player or teammate who will ever have an issue with Jazz. She does what she’s supposed to do and does it with a smile. You can’t ask for a whole lot more."

- Laurie Corbelli, head coach

“I had no idea where I wanted to go,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know what region. I was everywhere. We were really just visiting A&M for fun on the way home, and I fell in love with it. I didn’t think I was going to. Everyone was so nice and friendly, and I loved the coaches.”

Babers did not commit until the end of her junior year—much later than most—after some encouragement from one of her Austin Juniors teammates. The three future Aggies on the team didn’t plan on committing to the same school, but it worked out that way.

“Sierra committed first and convinced Angela to commit, as well, so I was the last one,” she said. “After a practice, Angela came up to me and asked, ‘What’s your top school right now?’ I said A&M and she asked, ‘What are you waiting for? Why don’t you commit. Go commit.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ The next day I called A&M and committed. We all motivated each other, and it was really nice to come to a school and already know people.”

At A&M, Babers found a perfect situation to help her make the transition to the college level. Seniors Stephanie Minnerly and Lindsey Miller were seasoned veterans at her middle blocker position. That allowed Babers to redshirt, although that decision was not made until late in the season.

“She was willing to play if necessary,” Corbelli said. “She was so willing and open to do whatever we needed to do for her and for our program’s sake. Luckily, we didn’t have to use her. I do believe her career is going to be much more remarkable because of it and more beneficial for the program.”

“It was great to learn from Lindsey and Minnow,” Babers added. “I didn’t necessarily feel ready to play, so I’m glad I was able to have that year to sit back, learn and catch up with the pace because college volleyball is so much faster.”

Since stepping on to the court this season, Babers has yet to come off when the Aggies are playing. She has started every game, played every set and leads the team and is among the best in the Southeastern Conference in blocks.

“She has shown how important being that physical can be,” Corbelli said of Babers’ style of play on the court. “Her demeanor on the court is very carefree. She’s not an uptight player. I really feel like she learned a lot last year being in the gym and watching a lot of volleyball. It was invaluable for her.”

The 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors following the Texas A&M Invitational during the third week of the season. Babers made the all-tournament team after helping the Aggies capture the tournament title, which included an upset victory over No. 16 Florida State.

Off the court, Babers is the ultimate teammate. If you hear someone laughing in the locker room, Corbelli says it’s not difficult to figure out who it is.

“There’s not a player or teammate who will ever have an issue with Jazz,” she added. “She does what she’s supposed to do and does it with a smile. You can’t ask for a whole lot more.”

Perhaps the only thing bigger than Babers’ infectious smile is her enormous heart. Whether it’s helping out at a food bank or sponsoring a child in Ethiopa, Babers has always had a passion for volunteering and helping others. When she was in high school, Babers made lunch bags filled with snacks and water to keep in her mother’s car.

“Whenever I saw a homeless person, I would tell my mom to pull over and I would give them a lunch bag,” she said. “We would see a lot of homeless people while driving back and forth to Austin. I absolutely love helping people.”

That’s Jazzmin Babers.

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