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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Echo

‘Grace’ing the Court: a TU volleyball story

A look at Taylor's dynamic duo

It takes two to make a thing go right, and for Taylor University volleyball, that means juniors Grace Ieremia and Gracie Conway.

The Taylor duo has contributed greatly to the success of their team. Ieremia led the Crossroads League in blocks and blocks per set last season and is top-10 in both categories this year, meanwhile, Conway leads the Crossroads League in kills and kills per set. 

While powerhouses on the court, both women add to the volleyball team’s leadership.

Head coach Erin Luthy testifies to Ieremia’s leadership on the team, both athletically and spiritually. Last year, Luthy said, Ieremia played among a very seasoned team, with transfers, fifth-year seniors and six total seniors.

“She’s been playing with a much younger, inexperienced squad, so for her to step up and encourage, and model a poise and a leadership and a willingness to serve those around her, but also challenge and push those around her, has been a different role for her, which is fun to see,” Luthy said. “The growth I have seen in her, not just athletically, but spiritually and emotionally, and just who she is as a woman, it’s been phenomenal. I’m just so proud of her.”  

Luthy says she has seen Ieremia specifically come alongside, speak to and empower the freshmen on the team through encouragement as they transition to college life. 

Ieremia says that pouring into the team for her looks like speaking God’s truth.

 “God’s truth is the Word, and I want to be able to show the Lord to them, and that’s the only thing that I can pour into them that’s life…there’s of course mental strength, physical strength, there’s other attributes, but the one that gifted it is God, so starting at the foundation so starting from the foundation and the root of it, and just being able to lift it up and say ‘remember,’” Ieremia said. 

Ieremia also asks members of the team what Jesus would look like as a teammate or as a coach. She says pondering this idea is one that helps her try to exemplify Jesus on the court. 

“We are encouraged by each other, but we aren’t soft. We are passionate and fiery and ready to go after it, but in the name of the Lord and with his armor,” she said. 

Ieremia’s journey to Taylor is a major part of her story. She started her college experience at Carson-Newman University in Tennessee before transferring to the University West Florida. After neither seemed to be the perfect fit, she took a gap semester. 

She said these experiences and schools, while not always good, were part of her odyssey through the sport. The offers and the educational programs at her previous schools are something she was refined and felt blessed by.  

“It was still a blessing, even though it wasn’t the way that God would have intended me to play volleyball to glorify the sport. My mind was on ‘I need to be better.’ I was aiming for self improvement in the way that the Lord would say that’s not the improvement that I’m seeing that I would intend for you to aim for,” Ieremia said. 

Ieremia’s gap semester was one of separation from the game. She didn’t couldn’t even stand the sight of a volleyball. However, after agreeing to coach a young athlete and watching her tournaments, Ieremia felt God calling her back to the sport. 

When re-entering the portal, she contacted coach Luthy. The two reconnected after three years and Ieremia became a part of the Taylor family. 

“It all just worked out so well,” Ieremia said. “I had a lot of the healing process happening and I was able to become this new woman in Christ. I was able to actually feel God’s presence and feel God’s work here other than just on the court.”

She felt such harmony and unity back on the court. Ieremia attributed her development as a leader to the previous spiritual leaders on the team and her coach. She described being a ‘leader’ not as a title but as something humbling, as an honor, and glorifying to the Lord. 

“My goal on the court is to be able to show God to others, not only my teammates, but to the crowds, and people who speak into me, so that’s the journey of this volleyball progress,” She said.

As a high schooler, Gracie Conway was a highly recruited player out of Munciana, a club based in Delaware County in Indiana. She came off her senior year of high school during the COVID-19 pandemic and had a unique situation because of that time. 

Coach Luthy says Conway’s first two years were a lot of training and developing. 

“For her to see and truly embrace this program for the culture and for the campus community and to be patient in the process, and be mentored by those playing over her was truly special, and for her to come in this year. She’s worked really hard off-season to be able to come in and contribute in big ways,” Luthy said. 

She speaks to how Conway loves her teammates well, and how excited she is to see how the season unfolds for her. 

Conway herself says that she learned from the upperclassmen leaders before her and experienced an immense amount of encouragement during those first years. 

“They developed and grew me as a player and an individual on and off the court. And that was really amazing, so going from the past two years now as a leader on the court I feel very well prepared based on who I had above me,” Conway said. 

Because of the support of leaders before her, Conway says she was not afraid of leading and stepping into that role. She feels more at ease while being on the court this year. While there is pressure, it’s a different kind, and the way Coach Luthy and the other players have spoken into her has given her peace.

She expresses the trust she has with her teammates contributing to gameplay and skill development. Conway attributes that to how detailed Coach Luthy is in the information she gives her players for every game, as well as team chemistry and dedication. 

“Our defenders are crazy…everyone is so good so, there's no lack of confidence there. And for me, there’s our setter Linsday Springer. She’s awesome, I trust her so much. I know she’s going to put every single ball up to the best of her ability,” Conway said.

While a volleyball player and a student, Conway is also a barrel racer. Coming from a family that spans deeply into competitively racing horses, she has trained with them her whole life. She spends every summer going to shows and rodeos and it has left a significant impact on who she is as a person. She says her teammates and coach support her in ways she didn’t expect.

“The girls love [the horses]. They ask me all the time about my horses… they’re just really good about supporting me and what I do, which I think is so awesome because they definitely don’t have to be involved in my other life, but they are,” she said.

Conway said Coach Luthy has come to her horse shows before and she has been grateful for the support in both aspects of her life. 

Ieremia and Conway have contributed on and off the court to the team culture of Taylor volleyball. Ieremia is grateful for the opportunity to know what the name of Taylor is and the program that has developed here. Conway adds that the team focuses on empowering each other. Trojan volleyball has such a special team environment and Conway wishes all players could experience it.