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Music To Your Ears

Jazzmin Babers provides leadership on and off the court as Texas A&M notches first conference title

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Not many teams can claim one of their players was named after a movie star.

Texas A&M volleyball is one that can, however.

"My mom and dad had run out of girl names," recalled Jazzmin Babers with a big smile. "So they asked my sister (Breeahnah), who was about two or three at the time, what she wanted to name me.

"She said Princess Jasmine."

The third out of four children--all girls--to Dino and Susan Babers, Jazzmin has lived up to her Aladdin-inspired name by helping take the Aggies on quite a magic carpet ride this season. She is one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference and will be Texas A&M volleyball's go-to leader when she returns for her senior season in 2016.

Babers has started every match of her career, powering the Aggies to 64 victories in three seasons. A two-time All-SEC selection, she was an honorable mention All-American in 2014 and was named to the second team after her stellar play in 2015.

She ranked among the country's best in attack percentage in 2015. That, combined with her ability to dominate defensively at the net, was a key reason why A&M brought home the first conference championship in program history this fall.

It has been a solid career for someone who didn't even pick up a volleyball until her freshman year at Waco's Midway High School.

Soccer had been Babers' athletic passion up until that point. But entering high school at about six feet tall, her mother suggested she try a sport where Jazzmin could better benefit from her height. After two years playing both sports, Babers began getting noticed on the volleyball court. College scholarship offers started rolling in during her sophomore season, prompting the former soccer standout to focus on volleyball full-time.

Texas A&M, however, was not necessarily at the top of her wish list as she started narrowing down her college decision.

 

Going In For The Kill

Jazzmin Babers finished 2015 as a second-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association after leading the Aggies in kills and blocks. Her team-leading hitting percentage of .412 ranked third in the SEC.

But a chance detour through College Station during a drive on Highway 6 one day changed her path forever.

"I visited Rice, and then on our way back to Waco we were like, 'Oh, let's stop at A&M,'" Babers recalled. "Laurie (Corbelli) was already recruiting me. I didn't think I wanted to come here, but I stepped on campus and just fell in love with the coaches, the team and the great atmosphere."

Soon after, the Corbellis offered her a scholarship. A few months later, she committed and became an Aggie.

Family Matters

While Jazzmin's parents never pushed any of their four daughters into athletics, Dino and Susan Babers encouraged each child to give sports a try. That encouragement likely stems from the fact that athletic success is in the Babers' blood. Dino and Susan were both standout athletes at the University of Hawaii--Dino was a four-year starter in football and a team captain as a senior, and Susan was a member of one of the country's premier volleyball programs under legendary coach Dave Shoji.

If the name Babers sounds familiar to Aggies, there is a good reason. Dino spent two seasons on former coach R.C. Slocum's football staff in the early 2000s. After his departure from A&M, Babers has risen up the coaching ranks and earlier this month was named the head coach at Syracuse after posting a 10-3 record this season and winning the MAC championship with Bowling Green.

As her father's career blossomed, the family was naturally along for the ride. Born in California while Dino was an assistant at San Diego State, Jazzmin has called San Diego, Tucson, College Station, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Waco, Charleston (Illinois), Bowling Green (Ohio) and now Syracuse home.

The moving around has become a point of humor for the Aggies. During the NCAA Volleyball Tournament First and Second Rounds in December at Reed Arena, Jazzmin was announced as being from Bowling Green, Ohio, prior to the Friday night first-round match. Twenty-four hours later, Syracuse was announced over the speakers as her new hometown, which earned a big laugh out of Babers.

"We love to tease her," Corbelli said. "'Where are you from now? Maybe your family doesn't want you know where they are!' She laughs about that too."

The four Babers girls remain very close, despite the fact that they are separated by thousands of miles. Breeahnah, the eldest, teaches English at an elementary school in South Korea. Tasha is a communications intern at Hope Chapel church in Maui. The youngest, Paris, is making the move from Bowling Green to Syracuse with her parents.

"It's hard (to keep in touch) with the different time zones," Babers said. "We've been trying to set up Skype time, but it hasn't really happened. We try to make it work, but it's a little difficult."

Hailing from a coaching family can be difficult with the moving, uncertainty and sometimes even the scrutiny of others. But Babers, like she does with many things in her life, looks at her experience with a smile.

"I definitely think it was more of a blessing than anything," Babers said. "My parents never looked at it like, 'Oh no, we're moving again'. They'd tell us, 'You're going to a new place, a new school. You'll meet new friends.' They made it a more exciting and new experience.

"That definitely helped me coming in. A lot of freshmen tend to get homesick and are not used to that transition. But luckily, I didn't have to deal with that so much. I was used to it."

What she wasn't used to, though, was having to deal with the frustration of injury.

Shoulder surgery in high school cost Babers her senior year of volleyball. Once she enrolled at A&M and with her freshman campaign on the horizon, it was becoming evident that her shoulder wasn't quite ready for competition. So the decision was made to take a redshirt in her first season.

"(Talking about redshirting) was one of the first detailed conversations we'd had when she was on the team," Corbelli recalled. "I'd say, 'So, what do you think about it'? (She responded) 'Well, I don't care'. 'Well, how about your parents'?

'They don't care. Whatever you think we should do.'"

"She has always been very carefree and easy to work with."

All-Around Champion

Now largely healthy, her on-the-court successes have continued to pile up throughout Babers' career, culminating in the program's first SEC championship this fall. The Aggies rattled off 14 consecutive victories to end the regular season and earned the highest national seed in program history before 7th-ranked Hawaii put an end to A&M's postseason run in a very tough second-round draw for the Aggies.

But for Babers, it is off the court where she knows she can make a true impact on people's lives. You would be hard pressed to find a more involved student-athlete on any campus. She has participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteered in an adult ESL class, worked with elementary school children in things like the Science Olympiad and Aggies Move, and volunteered with Big Event, among others.

But there's nothing she enjoys more than giving her time to help children.

"I have a soft spot for younger kids, just going in and reading stories to them, volunteering in schools...that's what I like the most," Babers said.

Spend a few minutes around her, and it is no surprise that she wants to be a teacher. An elementary education major, she plans to student teach in the spring and graduate in May 2017.

"She's very patient," Corbelli says. "She loves children. She laughs a lot--it's a great laugh. It's contagious. I think (teaching) is a perfect field for her. I can see her really thriving."

So what does life after volleyball look like?

"I'm thinking of teaching abroad, some non-profit or missionary work," Babers said. "Then I'll probably come back to America and teach. I have no idea where I'll end up. I just want to go and help kids. I love serving people. That's what Jesus wanted us to do. That's what I'm trying to do, just be His hands and feet."

Being so far away from home--a home that seems to be ever shifting around the country--Babers has relied on her strong relationship with the Corbellis to help as she has grown as both a volleyball player and a young woman who will soon enter the real world.

"It's been an amazing experience, having them as coaches," Babers said. "They're definitely like parents to me. Laurie takes on that role. We're really close on and off the court. They've taught me how to grow. But even off the court, I know if I ever need anything I can always call them."

The tight-knit bond between the team and coaching staff was on display following A&M's SEC-clinching, come-from-behind win at Missouri on Nov. 25.

"It was just so exciting," Babers said. "To see the joy Laurie and (associate head coach) John (Corbelli) had, it was great to give that back to them. They put in so many hours and so much time developing us, recruiting, scouting. It was just a great feeling to give that back to them."

And with the departure of just two seniors from the highly-successful 2015 squad, it is apparent that Babers will be a rock on which Texas A&M will build toward even bigger successes next fall.

"She certainly is the complete package," Corbelli said. "She gets it. You have to bring an element of intensity, but you also have to have a willingness to learn and be coached and take criticism. She makes it so easy. We are blessed with a team player that is willing to work every day with a smile and authentically be engaged in her training. It's pretty incredible."

Matt Simon, director of digital media for 12th Man Productions, is a 1998 graduate of Texas A&M University.

 

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2015 December

"A&M has given us so much.

When it comes down to it, education is the most important thing someone can have, and student-athletes give so much of their time and talents to our school. If we can help support them to earn that diploma and Aggie ring, then that is what we want to do."

Carol '78 and Don '78 Meyer
Champions Council Members