Sophomore libero Jamye Cox has never seen a ball she didn’t want to dive for. The 5-foot-6 Oregon, Ohio-native is described by coaches, teammates and even her own parents in the same way: relentless.
“We have to kick her out of the gym, that’s the kind of work ethic she has,” head coach Cathy George said. “There’s times where we’re like, ‘hey, we want to go home,’ because she’s there forever.”
Cox is the lone player on this year’s team that appeared in every set last season, as the Spartans graduated four All-Americans in the offseason. Though only a sophomore, Cox has become a leader this season. Cox leads the team with 4.34 digs per set, which is not bad for a team that has dominated most of the sets they have played this season.
“I think last year I was looking to the girls next to me. They were my leaders, that’s who I wanted to follow and live up to their expectations,” Cox said. “Whereas this year, I feel like I can’t focus so much on my play, I have to focus on us as a team, and not just, ‘what can I do to make them better with my own play?’”
Her mother, Tammy, said that her tendency to lead isn’t limited to the court.
“She’s always been that way,” Tammy said. “In school, people look to her when they’re having problems with each other. That’s just a natural trait of hers.”
Jamye may not be the prototypical height for a volleyball player, but she was born for athletics. Tammy was an All-State setter in Ohio, her father, James, played college basketball, and Jamye has two cousins and a sister who have all played college volleyball.
“She started doing competitive gymnastics at 6,” Tammy said of her middle daughter. “She would come home, and nonstop she would be in our backyard doing her tumbling (passes), so we had to talk to her, like, ‘wait a minute, you can’t keep doing this for 10 hours per day.’ But that’s just Jamye.”
Cox competed in both volleyball and gymnastics up until the age of 12, when her parents sat her down to make a decision between the two. Driven by her desire to be part of a team, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her many family members and commit to volleyball full-time. At 14, she caught the attention of Cathy George, who noticed Cox’s determination while scouting one of her club teammates.
“She’s a remarkable worker, probably one of the top workers I’ve had,” George said. “She’ll stay after, she’ll come in early, she’ll watch tape, she’ll do whatever she can to put herself in a position to be successful. She’s got this grind that doesn’t stop.”
Cox was named a USA Today 2nd team All-American as a high school sophomore and ranked as the No. 40 national recruit as a senior by Prepvolleyball.com. With that kind of hype came contact with just about every coach in the Big Ten, the nation’s premier Big Ten conference.
“The first day I came here, it felt like home,” Cox said. “Every single time I went back to this school it had more to do with the staff, the players, the people around us that are helping us, it’s just such more of a family environment than I felt on any other campus. That’s huge for me, I’m a big family girl.”
Though Cox’s parents credit Cathy George with reining their insatiable daughter in a bit, Cox herself mentioned her coach’s determination as a deciding factor in her coming to Michigan State.
“She doesn’t just settle for 'it’s a tough day, we’ll be better tomorrow,'” Cox said of her coach. “She gets on us. It drives me nuts when coaches say ‘tomorrow is a new day,’ but Cathy is always on us about how we don’t want to waste time.”
Since arriving on campus, the legend of her work ethic has grown amongst her teammates.
“This girl has a passion for the game I have never seen in my life,” junior setter Maggie Midgette said. “If she makes a mistake, I have to give her the same exact ball that she made a mistake on. She doesn’t even have to ask me anymore, I just know.”
Ultimately, her mother says her competitive spirit goes beyond the score, it’s more in her mind.
“She’s not competing against anybody else but herself. She’s said that to teammates, ‘I’m not competing with you. I’m competing with myself.’ ... She’s this athlete who has this unique ability to have that defined within her mind, and she’s had that since she was young.”