RICHMOND, Va. – The volleyball careers of Jasmine Waters and Anett Farkas have been similarly important to the revival taking place at VCU this year. Both transferred to the school three seasons ago and have become integral parts of a team that has chugged to a surprising 13-2 record.
Farkas, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, is third on the team in kills and digs, and fourth in blocks. Waters, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, is second in blocks and hitting percentage. Farkas was the MVP of the VCU/Third Degree Sportswear Invitational earlier this year, while Waters earned similar honors at the season-opening Active Ankle Challenge at Ball State.
Although their volleyball careers have serendipitously intersected to lift VCU, their journeys to this place and this period in program history contrast dramatically.
A native of Budapest, Hungary, Farkas started playing volleyball when she was eight years old and trained under Hungarian legend Kotsis Attilane, who led the country fourth place finishes at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games.
Farkas attended an English-speaking school in Budapest until the fifth grade. When tuition became too expensive, she moved to an Austrian-speaking school, where she stayed until graduation. Meanwhile, Farkas excelled at volleyball and earned a spot with Hungary’s Junior National Program.
A Landover, Md. native, Waters didn’t play organized sports until a classmate all but dragged her to volleyball practice during her junior year of high school. She played on the jayvee team that first year and moved up to varsity for her senior season.
Although Farkas originally wanted to attend college in England, she was eventually wooed by New Orleans’ Jozsef Forman, a former Hungarian National Team Coach. As a freshman in 2009, Farkas played middle blocker and appeared in 32 of 33 matches for a 20-13 Privateers team. She would’ve stayed, too, but that spring, New Orleans, still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, announced it would transition to Division III (Note: Earlier this year, New Orleans announce it had reversed course and would remain D-I).
Waters didn’t have a single Division I scholarship offer. She essentially handled her own recruitment, emailing coaches during her senior year to set up visits. Temple Coach Bob Bertucci liked what he saw in the lanky middle and offered a spot on the team as a walk-on. Waters loved the school’s downtown Philadelphia campus and the opportunity to play Division I.
Raw as she was, Waters redshirted the 2008 season. In 2009, she averaged 1.57 kills and 0.77 blocks per set and was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference’s All-Rookie Team. Waters had hoped her play would merit a scholarship offer. When none came, she decided to look elsewhere. Although she loved Temple and felt a strong connection to her teammates, Waters couldn’t continue to pay her own way to school.
“I just couldn’t afford to stay there,” she said.
Farkas says she was close to transferring to American University in Washington, D.C., but VCU’s fashion merchandising program sold her on the school. She had always wanted to pursue a career in fashion, and American didn’t offer a similar program.
But she admits leaving New Orleans was difficult at first.
“The first two months were hard,” Farkas said. “It was just hard starting it all again, and I didn’t know anyone, and Richmond was different.”
Farkas came off the bench as a middle blocker for the Rams as a sophomore in 2010. The following year, she transitioned to a right side and outside hitter and became a starter. Farkas wasn’t a breakout star, but offered a steady hand and a mature presence.
In 2012, Farkas has become critical to the Rams’ success. During a Sept. 3 match against Middle Tennessee State, Farkas hit .433 with 15 kills, 10 digs, four aces and three solo blocks, and was the difference-maker in a 3-2 victory. Later that week, she added three double-doubles (kills-digs) as VCU won the Third Degree Sportswear Invitational. Nearly halfway through her senior season, Farkas is on pace to establish career highs in virtually every statistical category.
Waters, who had been drawn to Temple’s urban setting, felt at home on VCU’s historic Richmond streets. The Rams also had a scholarship to give and a need at middle blocker. But it wasn’t necessarily a perfect marriage.
Solid statistics during her redshirt freshman season at Temple masked an underlying flaw in Waters’ game. She had only been playing volleyball for a few years, and hadn’t learned many of the game’s technical aspects. At Temple, Waters says the staff simplified her blocking and offensive responsibilities to a basic level. Finley’s coaching philosophy places special emphasis on athletic blockers who can read defenses, and now he would have to teach Waters volleyball’s nuances on the go.
“My first preseason was tough because [the other players] are used to that,” Waters said. [Coach Finley] teaches them. He doesn’t just tell them to play their position. It felt like I had to start over again and play catch-up once more.”
Waters caught up pretty fast. Last season, she tied a school single-season record with 157 blocks and set a record by averaging 1.23 blocks per set. This year, she’s hitting .336 and averaging 1.15 blocks, just off her pace from last season. Finley, meanwhile, has lauded Waters’ “volleyball I.Q.” this season.
Led in part by veterans like Farkas and Waters, the Rams stormed to a 12-1 start, the best 13-match record in school history. Along the way, VCU beat a pair of top-50 RPI teams from last season, as well as four other top-100 squads.
“The chemistry is working for sure,” Farkas noted. “We can play for each other, and that makes us go, go and keep going.”
Although their volleyball careers started literally thousands of miles apart, Farkas and Waters are aiming to ensure that the next step in their journeys is to hoist an A-10 Championship trophy in November – together.