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Athletics | FeaturedApril 12, 2024

UAFS Volleyball: Setting the Standard of Athletics

Established in 1998 as the Westark Junior College volleyball team, head coach Jane Sargent has been at the center of all the changes and success the program has seen in the 26 years since.

There has never been a losing season under Sargent, affectionately nicknamed Sarge. She has coached her way to becoming the winningest coach in Arkansas with a 749-200 record. During her time at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, Sargent has led a national runner-up in 2008, the last season as Westark Junior College; in 2011, the first year UAFS qualified for the D-II tournament, the Lions were there; UAFS became the fastest team to a Final Four berth in 2014 and made it to the Elite 8 in 2015.

The history of UAFS volleyball speaks for itself under Sargent, and her players understand what it takes to be part of a winning culture. Since 2010, Sargent has coached 45 All-Conference team players. Seven were named All-Conference Player of the Year, three were Offensive Player of the Year, Setter of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year, and one was named Freshman of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.

“Playing for Sarge taught me many things. I thought I was mentally strong before coming here, but she proved me wrong,” said senior setter Chloe Price with a laugh. “She constantly is pushing you to be your best.”

Other accolades given under Sargent’s leadership include 25 players who have received All-Region awards while at UAFS. Thirteen made the All-Region First Team, nine to the All-Region Second Team, two honorable mentions, and one All-Region Player of the Year. Sargent’s ability to push players to be their best earned her six straight Coach of the Year awards.

With no signs of slowing down, the sky is the limit for what Sargent and UAFS volleyball can continue to accomplish.

“Sarge is just one of those coaches that’s always ready for a new challenge and loves to win,” said sophomore outside hitter Caelyn Gunn. “We’re ready for new challenges and also love to win.”

UAFS Athletic Director Curtis Janz shared a similar sentiment as he reflected on the team’s success, saying, “A rising tide lifts all ships, and Sarge and volleyball have risen the tide for all of UAFS.”

Despite all the success on the court, UAFS Volleyball once faced a challenge that no one saw coming.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I don’t remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is it.’ I remember thinking, ‘I wonder how this will impact my team?’” Sargent recalled. “We were at the end of the season, heading to the playoffs, and I didn’t want the team to be distracted.”

However, as Sargent says, you can weather any storm when your team is in your corner.

“When I told them, there were some tears, but we got through it, and I feel like we grew stronger and closer because of it. They got to see up close and personal what it feels like to battle something beyond your control,” she said. “My steadfast teams, assistant coaches, co-workers, and this amazing University lifted me and carried me through a year of chemo and radiation, and now I’m on the other side of six years ‘cancer-free.’”

As Sargent approaches a decade as a survivor of breast cancer, the bonds formed then continue to be strengthened today. Through her constant reminder to players that they play for the school they wear on their jerseys, it also means playing for Sargent, playing for all the breast cancer survivors, their families, and all those lost.

Caelyn describes the bond as something the team can rally together on and fight for a cause larger than volleyball.

“It means a lot and pulls us together. We’re here for something bigger than ourselves,” Caelyn said.

As a former player under Sargent and former assistant coach, Susannah Kelley understands and helps coach the idea of playing for more than wins and losses. Having gone through similar experiences as current players, her perspective on the program speaks volumes about what the team means to UAFS and what UAFS means to the team.

“A place has to matter to you in order to get out of it what you put in,” Kelley said. “UAFS matters to these players.”

Each year, UAFS volleyball fights for something more significant with Sargent and others at the forefront of their minds. The annual Pink Out match brings awareness to breast cancer and is an engaging event for fans, who are encouraged to wear pink in a united fight against breast cancer.

But the dedication to the community doesn’t end there.

Over the years, the team has helped place Christmas wreaths downtown, volunteered at Fort Smith Boys and Girls Clubs, read to students at local elementary schools, and called attention to ovarian cancer through their Paint the Town Teal initiative.

“Everyone on the team understands that we represent Fort Smith. We are always looking to do our best to help others in any way we can,” Chloe said.

Another way UAFS volleyball gives back is through another volleyball program near and dear to Sargent’s heart. The Fort Smith Juniors (FSJ) Volleyball Club has been connected to Sargent since she stepped foot on the UAFS campus. Helping develop a pipeline of future players to UAFS and around Arkansas has been a feather in the club’s cap.

“Being a volleyball player for UAFS inspires younger girls that want to play college volleyball,” Chloe said. “There are two high schools here and FSJ, so there are a lot of little eyes on the whole team. It feels amazing when younger volleyball players come to the games because that used to be us.”

The connection between UAFS volleyball and FSJ is more than just young fans in the stands of the Stubblefield Center. Past players got their start at FSJ, and many players coach or have coached at FSJ.

At UAFS, volleyball is more than just a sport. It’s more than records and accolades. It’s more than a team. UAFS volleyball is a family that loves and cares for its community.

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  • Volleyball
  • Day of Giving
  • Athletics

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Rachel Rodemann Putman

  • Director of Strategic Communications
  • 479-788-7132
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