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SETTING UP FOR SUCCESS

Junior volleyball setter Julie Chambers has waited two years for her unexpected opportunity

September 28, 2010


SETTING UP FOR SUCCESS

After winning their second America East title in five years, the Binghamton volleyball program had great expectations for the 2010 season. Their confidence was based on a team with five returning starters, including America East tournament MVP, Lindsey Mueller, and two other all-conference players. When the coaches from the America East selected the Bearcats as favorites to win the conference for the second consecutive season, the BU volleyball team looked like a sure bet for another run to the NCAA’s.

High hopes took an unexpected turn when the team learned that an injury to Mueller meant they would play without their team leader and star quarterback for the season. The sudden news shocked nobody more than Julie Chambers. The abrupt loss meant that she, a second string setter, would have to replace Mueller, a three year starter and second all-time leader in assists. Not surprisingly - given her extraordinary dedication to the game - Chambers leaned back on two years of experience as a sub, stepped into Mueller’s oversize shoes, and jumped into being a first teamer without breaking stride.

Local student-athlete takes aim at Division I

Chambers began her journey to Binghamton in Nichols, an upstate New York community just twenty-eight miles from the BU campus, when she first started playing volleyball in seventh grade. A young Chambers quickly demonstrated talent by competing with the varsity team at the end of eighth grade. Nevertheless, early hometown success as a high school player had limited value as she faced the subsequent challenges of Division I athletics.

“There’s quite a difference between Class C New York State volleyball and Division I,” Chambers said. “My athleticism has definitely helped (me with) the transition, but I’ve had to improve on all skills daily in order to survive.” By “athleticism,” she referred to eight years of training as a gymnast, as well as her experience as a three sport (basketball, volleyball and softball), high school athlete, which has given her the strength she has needed to improve her game.

Chambers has profited from the support of her nearby family, which is in close enough proximity to root for her regularly. “I enjoy having my family at all of our home games (I know it’s important to them) and being able to see my parents almost weekly, meeting for lunch, being able to talk to them in person about everything is so helpful to me.”

Although Chambers did not see much playing time throughout her first two seasons at Binghamton, she has always stayed positive about her game. She has thoroughly enjoyed her tenure on the team and she feels honored to be part of the volleyball program at Binghamton University.

“BU athletics is great, the people you’re surrounded by; seeing how much my teammates - new and old, coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, trainers, and the staff in the athletic department all care about us has been a very gratifying experience as well as getting the opportunity to learn and grow from them.”

Surprising opportunity

Heading into the 2010 season, Chambers prepared to work hard and have an impact for the Bearcats, in any way possible. Playing backup is rarely fun, but Chambers embraced it with the optimism of someone whom might never know how or when an opportunity will present itself. Then, at training camp in August, the team was startled by the unexpected news of Mueller’s absence for the forthcoming year. Chambers faced the challenge head on, without hesitation, despite feelings of disappointment and remorse.

“It is an unfortunate circumstance that happens to be a great opportunity for me,” Chambers believed. “I look forward to doing what I can to help the team to another America East championship. It’s going to be a challenge but one that I respect.”

So far this season, Chambers has stepped up and done an admirable job filling in for Mueller. Already, less than one month into the season, she has been named twice as America East Setter of the Week and, with an average of 9.8, currently leads the America East in assists per set.

After enduring a tough start, in which the program dropped their first three matches of the season, the team record is now 5-9. Head Coach, Glenn Kiriyama, credits Chambers for contributing an energetic, highly productive performance through a period of difficulty for everyone. “Julie has done a wonderful job stepping in for Lindsey, he said, “putting in countless hours to learn the many facets of the setting position,” and thereby helping the team.

Senior captain and two-time America East first team selection, Michelle McDonough has noticed a significant effort on the part of Chambers. “Julie has done a great job,” McDonough said. “She had big shoes to fill and she works her hardest day in and day out for the team. She is an outstanding teammate who is doing her part to help the team in any way that she can. She has a great work ethic and pushes herself to get better. Her role on the team is tough but she has done a phenomenal job accepting the challenge.”

Upperclassmen influence

During her freshman and sophomore years, Chambers worked diligently to improve her game. In the process, she received extensive support from her teammates, past and present, who took it upon themselves to improve her game. “The people most influential on my improvement (are) my teammates,” Chambers recalled. “I still speak to Jackie Strader, Ashley Allen, and Brianna Strong on a regular basis. Those three help mold me my freshman year…I owe them a lot and they mean the world to me.”

Jaclyn Strader, the school career record holder in total digs and digs per set, is one of the upperclassmen who mentored Chambers during her first year at Binghamton.

“Coming into the volleyball program as a setter behind Lindsey, Julie knew she wasn’t going to be seeing much playing time,” Strader said. “Knowing that fact though, did not affect her work ethic. We were constantly emphasizing the importance of hard work and competitiveness during our practices and training sessions. Julie never had to be reminded of that, it was obvious from day one how passionate she was for the game.”

A co-captain along with Jaclyn Strader during Chambers’ freshman year, Ashley Allen was also extremely imperative to the maturation process of Chambers.

“The one thing that sets Julie apart from many athletes is that she seeks out peer evaluation,” Allen said. Most players go to a coach to ask what they need to change, but Julie would come to me and Jackie and ask for advice, or what we thought she needed to do to improve.”

The most recent Binghamton volleyball alumnus to mold Chambers into the player she is today is Brianna Strong. Strong took over the libero duties for Strader last season and while doing so set the school record for most digs in a single match.

“After Julie’s freshman season, she asked me to be her pepper partner for the following season,” Strong proclaimed. “My response was, ‘Well, I guess, I mean you sort of have ball control.’ It sounds harsh, but she took that comment and ran with it. I think I had a huge impact on developing her as a player. Her constant effort and want for perfection and victory, regardless of personal performance. She will always give her best, but at the end of the day, all that has ever mattered to her, is whether we win or lose.”

The knowledge bestowed upon Chambers by her peers during her early progression have become invaluable to her now that she’s the quarterback.

Looking to improve the Bearcat community

As a student-athlete, Chambers takes her responsibilities off the court as serious as she does on. Her commitment to Binghamton University is second to none, as displayed by her involvement with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Chambers has been a member of SAAC since her freshman year and was elected President this past spring. Being elected President displays the confidence her fellow student-athletes have in her leadership abilities.

“SAAC is an important organization to me because of the potential I see in it,” Chambers stated. “Creating more of a family atmosphere within our student-athletes and administrators is a goal of mine. We will be working on a few new projects this year, but also try to expand on activities from the past. These will include the Pie in the Face contest that was enjoyed by everyone during our banquet this past spring.”

Assistant Director of Athletics for Leadership and Student Services and SAAC advisor, Kim King has seen first hand how Chambers has grown within her role in SAAC.

“Julie took the initiative to come to the executive board meetings last year with all the officers even without a formal position,” King said. “She was reliable and consistently a person that everyone knew they could count on to volunteer and follow through. We are very lucky to have such a great role model and dedicated leader now that she (Chambers) has a more prominent position in SAAC.”

The leadership aptitude she developed during her young career at Binghamton has allowed Chambers to have a prominent role in the athletic department. She continues to use those skills in the classroom, where her diligence does not fade. Chambers was named to the America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll for the Fall 2009 semester in recognition of her academic excellence.

“I like to make it tough for myself, being involved in so much,” Chambers said. “The more I have to do the more organized and determined I seem to be. It has worked out thus far, no matter how busy we are as student-athletes or whatever endeavors we face there is always extra down-time to devote to school and that’s what I’m focusing on this semester.”

Allen was impressed how a freshman could come in and manage her hectic college life as a student-athlete so well. “Julie is a very focused individual, she always has four or five activities she’s involved in on top of volleyball and school. I was always amazed of how great her time management was.”

Chambers’ dedication to the University and her school work is not lost on her coach. The meticulousness she puts into her college education is difficult to mirror. “Julie has a tremendous work ethic and a drive that pushes her to improve, as noted by her numerous areas of involvement outside of volleyball,” Kiriyama noted.

Building on memorable experiences

Coming off an America East championship and first round match against three-time defending National Champion Penn State, Chambers has experienced intense competition at BU. She hopes the team will learn from their championship run and match against Penn State and utilize that knowledge for the upcoming conference play.

“Both were gratifying experiences, it was great to see everyone come together the week prior to the AE championship,” Chambers recollected. “It really showed what we were made of…so much talent finally coming together. The match against Penn State was kind of a blur; they’re all amazing volleyball players and athletes. It was nice to see them play up close. I think we put on a pretty good showing against a team that hasn’t lost in three years.”

Though she saw minimal action in these matches, Chambers soaked everything in and believes they will benefit her in the future. The same goes for acknowledgement from her coach. Though he does not give many compliments, coach Kiriyama has been a source of support for Chambers.

“It’s hard to explain but receiving a real compliment from him (Kiriyama) is kind of like finding gold,” Chambers said. “It means you did something very well or are working extremely hard. I guess that’s what I strive for day in and day out, something to always work for and make me better.”

Improving on and off the court is something Chambers works towards every moment of her life. She hopes her endeavors will bring her success in both areas. Chambers is currently majoring in marketing while minoring in leadership and international business. She is currently interning with the sport marketing department and hopes to have a career in the industry.

It’s just like Chambers to add more to her plate each and every day to see how much she can handle. As those who know her, she will do it with non-stop effort and pride.

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