COLUMBIA — Jade Hayes watches senior libero Priscilla Armendariz closely during practice. She can be spotted close to the edge of the court at the Hearnes Center, observing Armendariz as she softly bumps the ball to setter Molly Kreklow. Kreklow sets the ball and outside hitter Brittney Brimmage jumps for the spike. The process looks effortless.
Hayes, a freshman on the Missouri volleyball team, knows she could be the one setting it up; she's the libero-in-waiting and is learning the position from Armendariz, or "Pip" for short.
The libero anchors the back row and is the only player who can enter the game at any time.
Armendariz was in this same position last season when she took over for four-year starter Caitlyn Vann. She said she will give Hayes the same advice Vann gave her a year ago.
"Pretty much like just working your tail off. All-out with everything. You run that court," Armendariz said.
Armendariz and Hayes often sit next to each other in the Missouri locker room before a match. They both laugh about how their relationship got started. Armendariz had a high-school friend named Jade whom she always called Judy, so she decided to do the same thing with Hayes.
"It's hard hearing her (Hayes') name without wanting to call her Judy. She kind of likes it. It puts a smile on her face when she's down," Armendariz said.
Armendariz said the rest of the team does not know why she has that nickname for Hayes.
Although Hayes relies on Armendariz for guidance on the court, her faith is her source of strength. Hayes doesn't prepare for a match by listening to her favorite song or reading a cheesy romantic novel like some of her teammates. Instead, she reads passages from the Bible.
"There's a lot of different verses in the Bible that have to do with athletics in some way," Hayes said. One of her favorites, Philippians 4:13, says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."
Hayes describes herself as a gym rat, but not everyone thought she would play volleyball, or any sport for that matter when she was younger. She said her parents envisioned their daughter as a cheerleader.
"Apparently, I was really girly," Hayes said.
Instead, Hayes got involved in gymnastics, swimming, basketball and volleyball in elementary school and high school. She said she chose volleyball over the rest of these sports because she loved how she is able to use all her athletic abilities, such as running and jumping.
Armendariz said young players struggle with having to boss older teammates when they are thrust into a leadership role like libero. She said that means that Hayes will have to find her voice.
"She's going to have to take over no matter how old anyone else is one the court," Armendariz said.
Hayes doesn't say much on the court, though. Sometimes she gets excited when a teammate spikes the ball. Most of the time, though, she stays mild-mannered. Hayes acknowledged she will have to be more vocal on the court, constantly talking and directing teammates from the back line.
"She definitely has the potential," Armendariz said. "It's just getting her personality to do it."