HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Whether it is in Reed Green Coliseum, her native San Mateo, Calif., or mission trips to Mexico and Haiti, senior outside hitter Chanel Joyce has made a habit of creating bonds with everyone she has met along the way.
"When we were in Haiti, we actually got to feed children outside of the community," she said. "We just had leftover food and every time they'd be so excited to see us and we would hand-feed them. They'd have no clothes on and nothing to their name, and they were so happy to see us that they would dance with us. It was the best experience of my life."
Joyce has been on missions to Mexico three times through her hometown church, each time to build a house. Her Haiti trip was to distribute water filters. That desire will not stop after she finishes the Southern Miss chapter of her life; she plans on becoming a firefighter because she just "really wants to help people," and the missions will continue as well since she identifies it as the most rewarding thing in her life.
That same zest for making an impact away from the court is what has enabled her to reach the highest level of collegiate volleyball despite a very thin background in the sport.
"I was at P.E. one time and my coach said, 'Chanel, you have to try out for the volleyball team,'" Joyce said. "I told her I didn't want to and she said she would fail me if I didn't. She made me and they basically built me from the ground up and worked on my skills. My coach said I was good enough to play in college, and it stuck."
Joyce also said she liked cheerleading, but it was going to be really hard to get a college scholarship. Her 11-year soccer career also weighed heavily on her mind throughout the process. Head coach Amanda Berkley, who was an assistant coach during Joyce's recruiting process, still sees the same qualities now as she did years ago.
"She was very quiet originally on her first visit, but you could tell she got a long and enjoyed it," Berkley said. "Seeing her going from quiet to being a leader and positive influence on the team has been really awesome.
"She's really determined to play. She had a great attitude on the court and coming into the year, she wanted her spot and went and took it. Her ceiling is high and she's reaching her potential."
Joyce can attest to some of the quietness, too.
"Honestly, I think coming in as a freshman I was really nervous to play," she said. "As the years went on I got more confident and it made me a better player. Over the years I knew it was my time and I made my opportunity."
The confidence has absolutely shown. Her 109 kills through the first half of the season are 27 more than her previous-best. She tied her kill career-high with 11 against Virginia on Sept. 2, then topped it with 12 more as the Golden Eagles picked up a Sept. 16 win at Arkansas. The team is actually 6-1 when she has had nine kills or more this season.
"She brings a lot of energy," Berkley said. "When she gets a big play she celebrates with her teammates. She has a lot of fun with her friends off the court, and it's cool to see how much they bonded from her freshman year on."
One of those teammates is senior Makareta Rademakers. She has one story to share about her, Joyce and fellow senior Stephany Purdue.
"There was one night our freshman year where we came back from some match around 3 a.m.," she said. "One of our stretching bands got stuck in Stephany's bike and we were stranded in the middle of campus. We just laughed hysterically. We couldn't move and definitely couldn't leave it there."
Those bonds certainly remain true three years later.
"[Chanel] has the biggest heart," Rademakers said. "She's the greatest friend I could have possibly asked for. She's honest and the realest person I've ever met. She's the person I go to for all my advice."
Southern Miss begins its conference season Friday at North Texas (7 p.m.) before going south to play at UTSA Sunday at 1 p.m.
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