By Taylor Lupetti (@tayclupetti):
The San Jose State women’s volleyball team has the most international players of any team in the Mountain West Conference.
Head coach Jolene Shepardson and associate head coach Aaron Shepardson started coaching at SJSU four years ago, and while expanding their team each season, the Shepardsons have built strong connections with scouts worldwide.
“We built networks off of those former players that we’ve had represented here,” Aaron said. “We just continue to build our networks as we go.”
As the 2017 season winds down, the two have been traveling to recruit for next year. When they aren’t the head coach, the two take turns traveling on the weekends, Aaron in the fall and Jolene in the spring.
“Lately he (Aaron) has been traveling a lot more since we’ve had our family here,” Jolene said. “He’s been traveling a lot more internationally and I travel domestically in the spring season almost every weekend.”
When it comes to looking for players, no place is off limits. The Shepardsons look everywhere for potential talent.
“We go and find all of these players so we’ll go and recruit in California, all over our country and internationally, so we definitely don’t discriminate,” Jolene said. “We look for the best players anywhere in the world.”
Five of the team’s current players are from different parts of Brazil, a country that has a very different volleyball atmosphere than here in the U.S.
“Brazil is full of great talent,” Aaron said. “Volleyball is a big part of the sport culture in Brazil. A lot of players grow up not just playing volleyball, but also watching professional volleyball on TV … it’s in their blood out there.”
Recent recruiting trips include Sweden, Denmark and Germany. For both Aaron and Jolene, the process of recruiting is far more humbling than just being able to travel around the world.
“I really enjoy meeting the families and all the people,” Aaron said. “I think you get a really good sense of what the culture is like. It’s a lot more gratifying than just traveling as a tourist.”
Having almost half of its team come from other countries gives SJSU a program that is different from its competitors. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas has the second highest amount of international players at three. The diversity gives the team a leg up as it turns the differences into a bonding experience.
“It helps the maturity (of the team),” Jolene said. “Learning about each other because they all come from different places … we take a different ways to build our culture and our chemistry and our program, but I love those differences and I think we want to continue to have that diversity.”
After coming to San Jose to play, some of the volleyball alumni have gone to other countries to play professionally.
“They’ve mostly played in Europe, Switzerland, Spain,” Jolene said. “There’s some strong leagues over there so it’s an opportunity to travel and maybe learn another language and experience another culture and just live away from home so we encourage our student athletes to do it.”
While traveling, Aaron and Jolene’s definition of a the perfect fit for their team goes beyond a player’s skill sets on the court.
“Personalities are important,” Jolene said. “You try to find the perfect chemistry for your team so you’re not only looking for a specific position and talent base, you’re also looking for a particular personality.”
The six international players on the team is just the beginning for SJSU. As the husband-wife duo continues to add to their team, there’s no telling where they will find future Spartans.