COLUMBIA — On the volleyball court, Stephens College’s Jo Marquez is a picture of composure. The junior outside hitter, who stands a lanky 5 feet 7, awaits serves like a praying mantis, her arms swaying slowly in front of her as she prepares to defend.
Her long, jet-black ponytail sets her apart among would-be blockers when she rises up for a spike attempt. When she makes mistakes, she shrugs them off quickly, fully aware that she is a veteran leader on a relatively young team.
“She’s a great leader,” Stars coach Michelle Gregory said. “She’s always the one we can count on to get the job done. She’s always at practice; she never has excuses.”
This maturity also comes in handy when Marquez is off the court. Besides majoring in biology, Marquez is also a single mother. Raising her 3-year-old daughter, Trisha, has brought Marquez her share of both joy and stress, but she seems to be taking her responsibilities in stride.
When asked if she still has a life, Marquez laughed and said, “Not really.”
“I rarely have free time. I’m always trying to get homework done. Basically, that’s it. That’s all I do — homework and practice and games,” Marquez said. She paused between listing each activity, like she was trying to remember if it was possible to fit anything else in her schedule.
Her day begins at 7 am. Her mornings start by taking her daughter to day care., and then Marquez heads to her classes. A day of labs and classes can end as late as 4:50 p.m., followed by practice at 6. On other days she’ll be out of class by noon, but Marquez uses that time to either do homework or head to an afternoon practice.
Despite her hectic schedule, Marquez describes her days without a hint of exasperation. She has struck the delicate balance between being a dedicated mother and a productive student-athlete, making time for both. Her daughter is a regular at practice, keeping teammates and coaches entertained.
“I bring her to practice and she kind of like mingles with everybody,” Marquez said.
Mingling is an understatement. During practices, Trisha roams Silverthorne Arena like it’s her playground. She leaps up and down the bleachers and freely waltzes around the court. She also shows an interest in being a part of the team. During a recent Monday practice, she decides to run warm-up laps with outside hitter Shandin Blakely, who slows her pace to a slight jog while holding the child’s hand. Then Trisha stretches out with Blakely and mimics every movement. If Blakely does a trunk-twister, she sprawls onto the floor, too. If Blakely touches her toes, she bends her legs so she could reach her own.
Her constant presence has made her part of the team.
“She’s like our little mascot,” junior Jamecia Stoudermire said.
“Trisha is very outgoing. She’s got lots of energy,” senior Moniece Brown said. “Whenever she gets older she’s going to remember this experience. It’s really going to help her communication skills.”
Despite her daughter’s exuberance, one term the team consistently uses to describe Marquez’s daughter is “well-behaved.” The team says this is a reflection of Marquez’s self-discipline and sense of responsibility.
“She’s an example for young mothers that may have thought they can’t be a mother and educate themselves,” Brown said.
Even her coach is amazed at how well the 20 year-old manages her time.
“I respect her. You know, we travel a lot, and she always had (the baby-sitting situation) taken care of,” Gregory said. “Last year during basketball (season), I said, ‘If you ever need her to stay overnight, I’ll watch her, I don’t mind.’ She always had it taken care of. She’s very responsible.”
Although she appears to be collected in every situation, there are times when she feels overwhelmed. Marquez’s stress level peaks during stretches of the semester where she’ll have tests, games, and practices. She manages to keep things in perspective, however, knowing her schedule could have been more packed.
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have time to study and just prepare myself,” Marquez said. “But it should get a lot better with not playing basketball.”
Marquez, an El Paso, Texas native, played both volleyball and basketball for the Stars as a freshman and sophomore. Basketball is her favorite sport, and it’s the reason why she initially found herself in Columbia. Marquez’s decision to stop playing was not from a lack of love for the sport, but came out of a need for time.
Blakely, Marquez’s close friend and teammate, can relate to playing two sports. The junior played with Marquez on the volleyball and basketball teams during their freshman year, and she majors in biology, too. They share many of the same classes, and they even used to be roommates.
“They’re attached at the hip,” Gregory said.
Blakely is around her teammate when Marquez is in mission mode, a mind-setthat stands out during practice and games. Marquez’s face becomes a focused glare with hardly any expression. Her teammates laugh and joke during games and practices, but Marquez remains stoic. The only words she offers are encouragement for her team. Blakely says that mission mode intensifies during basketball season.
Blakely, however, has also seen Marquez let go, release stress, and simply be a normal college student.
“We’re pretty much nerds. We think everything is funny,” Blakely said. “You name it, we will probably laugh at it.”
Marquez can rest assured that she’ll have more time over the next couple of years to have fun with friends, teammates, and her daughter.
“Basketball goes over two semesters and it’s longer, and we have a lot more trips where we stay overnight,” Marquez said. “I have my daughter here and it’s just too stressful. Sometimes I don’t find baby-sitters, or it’s like the last minute that I’m trying to look for people to watch her.”
Marquez also wants to use that extra time to focus on her future. After Stephens, she wants to attend graduate school at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Her goal is to finish her biology degree at Stephens, then earn a doctorate in physical therapy at Rockhurst. Marquez thinks her busy schedule will prepare her for her next challenge.
“It should be a lot easier in graduate school because I don’t have to worry about sports,” Marquez said. “I just remember that I have to do it for my daughter.”