- October 1, 2020
It is difficult to imagine now, but Jordyn Byrd insists it is true.
"When I (first) tried volleyball, I sucked," Byrd said. "Really, really bad."
Hearing Byrd say those words is comical now. On Jan. 13, the 6-foot-4 Byrd was named the 2022-2023 Gatorade Florida Volleyball Player of the Year for her performance at Cardinal Mooney High. It was her second-straight year winning the award. Only one other Florida volleyball player, Jordan Burgess (2010-2011 and 2011-2012), has matched that feat since the award was created in 1995. Byrd's stats for this past season: 571 kills, 206 digs, 52 service aces and 48 blocks, with a .571 kill percentage and a .439 hitting percentage.
Byrd's team accomplishments are just as numerous. She was a key piece of Cardinal Mooney's 2019 indoor volleyball team that won a state championship and led the 2022 beach volleyball team to a state title as well. It is no surprise that the best college teams in the country wanted Byrd's talent. In November, Byrd signed with the University of Texas, which on Dec. 17 beat the University of Louisville in straight sets to win the NCAA Championship.
At the time of her signing, Texas Coach Jerritt Elliott had high praise for Byrd's abilities.
"Jordyn is a really physical player out of Florida that played multiple positions growing up," Elliott said in a release. "We're excited about where she is as an athlete and we think she has the capability of being the kind of a player that has the tools to take over matches."
With her high school indoor volleyball career in the rear-view mirror — and with strong academics allowing her to get ahead — Byrd decided to enroll a semester early at Texas. When we spoke on the phone Jan. 24, she was on a break from classes. Though Byrd does not have an official team practice until next week, she's been working out with her team and even got in some hits with other freshman enrollees.
Byrd said it finally hit her this week that she's an NCAA Division I athlete. Not because of the workouts or the classes, no; because of the other, more mundane stuff.
"We're doing everything on our own," Byrd said. "Like, we have to go to the store. We can't just say, 'Oh, Mom, Dad, pick something up.' No, you have to go by yourself. That made me realize I'm in college now. It's weird."
How did Byrd become an award-winning player at a national championship institution? It wasn't always her plan. For a long time, Byrd said, she refused to play volleyball. Her mother, Angie Byrd, has been a volleyball coach since before Byrd was born, working mostly at the NCAA Division II and junior college levels. Byrd said constantly being in the gym during her mother's practices and games put her off from the sport.
Eventually, at 12 years old, Byrd did relent, but as she said, it wasn't a smooth beginning. Byrd said she had grown tall by then, but had little control over her body. It got to the point where she told her mother she didn't want to play anymore.
"It was my legs," Byrd said. "I would trip over myself. It was kind of embarrassing."
Her mother persuaded her to keep trying, and as she grew into her body, her play improved. She started figuring out the finer details of the sport. Once she started hitting the court every day, she took off. As "one humongous 12 year old," Byrd said, she began playing middle blocker, but in her first year playing U15 travel volleyball, her team moved her to right-side hitter, a.k.a. opposite-side hitter. This position is more offensive in nature than middle blocker, and it was more in line with her natural skills, Byrd said. It allowed her to flourish. She'd stay there until her junior year at Mooney, when the Cougars asked her to play outside hitter. That position is usually reserved for the best hitter on the squad — really, the best overall player, in most cases. It's not a coincidence that Byrd's two years in the position were the ones that won her Gatorade awards.
Byrd said she has not spent much time thinking about what being a back-to-back winner means to her. It's understandable, given her transition to college happening at the same time. But Byrd did say she appreciated getting everyone's text messages on the day the award was announced.
"It's cool to do something you can be remembered in your community for," Byrd said.
Though Byrd played for the Cougars as recently as Nov. 1, high school is nothing but a collection of memories for her now. The ones that stand out? The indoor state title win in 2019, of course, and last year's beach title win. But more than anything else, Byrd wanted to laud this year's team. Byrd said the team heard a lot of talk before the season about how the Cougars were too young and inexperienced to do anything substantial. Mooney didn't win a state title in 2022, it's true, but the team did finish 18-10 — including a seven-match winning streak in October — and reach the Class 3A regional finals (Elite Eight) before losing 3-1 to eventual state champion Clearwater Central Catholic.
"This season was the year I was closest with everyone on the team," Byrd said. "I felt like I could go talk to every one of my teammates. If I needed help, I could call them. I made 15 long-term friends."
For all the awards and titles available to be won, aren't the relationships made what sports are about? Byrd certainly thinks so. It's a large part of why she picked Texas, too. Byrd said she was looking a family-esque atmosphere in her college destination and she got that from the coaching staff. They checked up on her, not to pester her with volleyball questions, but to make sure she was doing OK.
She also wanted to venture out of state on her own, to explore a new part of the country and start a new volleyball journey. There are plenty of chapters in Byrd's story yet to be written. If they are anything like the chapters that have come before, they'll be full of challenges, but also victories.
"I know I have to work hard, so that's what I'm going to do," Byrd said. "I'll do whatever it takes to play on this team."