Four years ago, Southwestern Assemblies of God University and former Ovilla Christian School volleyball player Jessica Sodich was at the top of her game.
She had recently wrapped up her junior season as the No. 14 hitter in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics — which led to a postseason honorable mention nod from the association.
“When Coach (Hank) Moore told me I had received an All-American award I was speechless. I felt as though my hard work and all the countless hours in the gym had paid off. It was a great honor to be named a NAIA All-American,” Sodich said.
She had big plans to return to the Lady Lions for her senior season and was determined, more than ever, to make an impact. During the off-season, though, life took her in a different direction.
Sodich learned instead of landing kills on the volleyball court in mid-September, she would be welcoming identical twin daughters.
"I felt that I had let my team down by not being able to come back the next season to play my last year with them,” Sodich explained. “It was heartbreaking to tell Coach Moore and the team that I wouldn't be able to come back and play in the fall. I thought my volleyball career was over, which was very hard for me to comprehend.”
On September 13, 2014, Olivia and Gabrielle were born. Sodich’s dream of finishing her volleyball career and earning her degree from SAGU took a backseat to being a hands-on mom.
For almost a half decade, Sodich has put her volleyball career on the backburner.
When the SAGU takes the court for the Sooner Athletic Conference-Red River Athletic Conference on Aug. 18, Sodich will mark her return to the Lady Lions — and her final season.
A few months earlier, she was told of changes to the volleyball roster. All she knew was she wanted to make it back on the team and gave Coach Moore a call.
Moore, the Lady Lions head volleyball coach, admitted he worried about her return after the surprising phone conversation.
“Her daughters were my biggest concern," he said. "How could she work, go to school, play volleyball and still be a mother? In our first meeting, she put my mind at ease. She had an incredible plan and I know her support system well. She had spent the time praying and preparing for this to happen.”
“We had a lot to consider this time around,” Sodich added. “We sat down one day and talked for a few hours discussing every hoop and obstacle we would have to overcome to make this possible. As the conversation ended, I had a gut feeling this was all going to work out and I would be playing my last season. God knew what he was doing and was in the midst of this decision.”
While juggling Olivia and Gabrielle’s schedules, she will be taking all online classes while working towards finishing up her degree in counseling. Once she completes her undergraduate degree, she will tackle her master’s.
And after taking four years off of volleyball, Sodich said she launched herself into the task of working hard to get back in shape.
“It hasn't been as tough as I thought," she continued. "There were some days I had no desire to workout but had to push through it knowing my ultimate goal. I wanted to come back better than ever. Having the mental strength to complete each workout and give my best effort has been challenging but so worth it.”
In 2013, Sodich landed on SAGU’s top five career kills list with 1,341. Despite her absence from the sport and university, she is within 644 of SAGU’s current leader, Kelani (Keoho) Daniels.
Daniels has 1,985.
When Sodich steps onto the court she will also be one of the team's captains, as voted on by her teammates. Moore said he believes that is a testament to her impact.
“She will bring a high level of play, but she will also bring strong leadership to our team," he said. "This is a dream come true. God is in this and we are going to have a special season. Jessica will have a huge part in that.”
Natalie Tristan is the SAGU sports information director, as well as a contributor to both the Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror publications. She can be reached at 1-888-YES-SAGU, firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media at @SAGUSportsNet.