After placing third in the national division at the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships with her RAGE Sacramento team in Indianapolis, senior Jewel Turner (left) poses with a teammate. (Photo courtesy of Turner)

Former Olympic-hopeful gymnast transforms into volleyball star

Athletic talent mixed with endless energy and seasoned with a rigorous structure and work ethic creates the ultimate concoction: senior Jewel Turner.

Turner first applied this recipe to gymnastics. Starting in third grade, she spent 20 hours a week in the gym.

In 2015, Turner became the Level 7 Regional champion on beam. 

The cycle of school, gymnastics and sleep became the norm for the next six years. However, looking ahead to high school, Turner recognized that the time commitment for gymnastics had become excessive due to increased academic responsibilities and ultimately decided to quit. 

“I had the Olympic dream, but you can’t do gymnastics and go to an academically rigorous school,” Turner said. “People that do elite gymnastics eat, breathe and sleep it. (It’s) all they do. They don’t go to school and can’t have a social life.”

Seeking a filler for the gymnastics-sized hole in her life, Turner decided to try volleyball as a freshman on a “whim.”

Gymnastics created an athletic foundation and work ethic applicable to volleyball, according to Turner. 

“Gymnastics was my first love, but volleyball comes very close,” said Turner, the Country Day team captain, who received honorable mention all-Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League (SMAL) recognition last season. “Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush you get after falling over and over again and then finally nailing a trick in gymnastics.

“It’s sort of like the feeling you get after a great kill or dig in volleyball.”

Turner idolizes gymnast Simone Biles, who has won four Olympic gold medals, and Stanford volleyball star Kathryn Plummer, this year’s Sullivan Award winner as the nation’s top amateur athlete. 

“(Biles) is superhuman,” Turner said. “She’s a world champion and one of the most decorated African-American women in the sport. 

 “(Plummer) has won every award in collegiate volleyball and played for the USA national team.”

 After playing for the Country Day junior varsity her freshman year, Turner made the Northern California Volleyball Club (NCVC) 14-year-old twos (B) team and met coach and trainer Kalani Panaganan. Turner credited Panaganan with teaching her the fundamentals of volleyball, in addition to position-specific training and conditioning. 

Continuing to train with Panaganan, Turner improved and propelled herself to Country Day’s varsity as a sophomore. 

“I had the drive and determination to get better,” Turner said. 

Turner, pushing herself further, made the Sacramento Performance Volleyball Club (SPVC) 16-year-old ones (A) team, skipping an age group, her sophomore year. 

Turner continued to train over the summer with Panaganan, sharpening her skills further. 

Country Day went 15-6 overall and 11-3 in the SMAL last season, falling short in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin D-VI playoffs to Stone Ridge Christian 3-0. 

The 5-foot-8 Turner, the 2018 team MVP, ranked second on the Cavs in kill percentage (36) and third in kills (58).

Varsity coach Jason Kreps praised Turner for her approach to the game. 

“Jewel has been our glue,” Kreps said. “She is a vocal leader, yet she is still humble and has been playing a brand new position (outside hitter) that is very strong for her.

“She is constantly trying to improve herself and the team, which I find awesome.”

Turner took yet another step by joining RAGE Sacramento’s 17-year-old ones team as a right-side hitter. 

In July, Turner’s team placed third in the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships in Indianapolis in the national division.

Although she began playing volleyball for fun, Turner said competing in college eventually became a goal.

“As I joined more competitive teams, college aspirations became more realistic,” Turner said. 

Now, with increased exposure due to recent success, Turner is weighing her options for collegiate volleyball. 

She expressed interest in any Pacific-12 Conference or University of California school, along with Duke University and Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. 

By Jackson Crawford

Originally published in the Sept. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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