It is said that a strong coach-athlete relationship is particularly vital because of its effect on the athlete.

Jamaica’s Aiko Jones can attest to that, as a simple relationship she started with women’s volleyball coach Dani Busboom Kelly at University of Louisville, has blossomed into something that runs deeper than wins or losses.

Still, the success that Jones enjoyed for the past six years at Louisville is credited to the effective coaching ability of Busboom Kelly, who ensures that her athletes success goes beyond their record on the court.

In fact, it is that sense of belonging, positive moral and ethical growth that resulted in Jones’s decision to stay at Louisville for a sixth year, and as fate would have it, she was named to the All-ACC volleyball team for the fifth time this week.

Simply put, the 24-year-old graduate student and team captain is certainly making the most of her bonus COVID year, as she has been an indispensable cog in the Cardinals' rise to national prominence, with hopes for one last deep run in the NCAA tournament.

"One more year to be with this program and continue to grow as a person, It's priceless. So why would I give that up,” Jones said in a recent interview with

"People ask how I ended up here and I tell them I met Dani [Busboom Kelly] and she asked me to leave my country and my family, and I've trusted her with my life ever since. But that's kind of the story,” she added.

The two first met when Busboom Kelly had Jones at a camp at Nebraska, when the coach was still an assistant coach there. When Busboom Kelly got the head coaching job at University of Louisville, Jones, a Wolmer’s Girls and University of the West Indies alumna, who had accomplished more in track and field, was one of her first recruits.

"They have club (volleyball) but it's nothing like they have here," said Busboom Kelly.

"Her high school court is outside. She was really a blank canvas that we could work with. She also could see her potential. So, it was really fun to train her. Everything was new. She could see the progress. She could see the changes. That made her work even harder,” the coach added.

Jones, the daughter of Jamaican radio personality Paula-Anne Porter, admitted that it was somewhat overwhelming at times.

"It was scary. When I first came to the US to come to a volleyball camp it was scary because I was with kids my age or younger who were so good. I remember sitting and writing in my journal, 'your story is different. It's OK that they are so much better than you and how you perceive things to be.' But it was intimidating for sure and sometimes still is. Also, it's pushed me to work much harder,” the over six-foot tall right side hitter, shared. 

Interestingly, the player-coach relationship has moved in concert with the Cardinals’s growth as a national power that has now included back-to-back final fours.

“And I tell her [Busboom Kelly] all the time, I would follow her anywhere, and that was a huge part of my decision and the culture that she's built here, and I feel like we've built together,” Jones noted. 

“I always have family here. I love Louisville. It's home to me. Jamaica will always be home, but Louisville is home and I just love it,” she declared.

Busboom Kelly echoed Jones’s sentiments.

“It's amazing when you feel like you get the total package. Not only a great athlete, but a physical athlete and then somebody that really loves Louisville. We have everybody vote for captains and they have to write why they voted for so and so and we had somebody wrote for Aiko, 'she just loves Louisville,” Busboom Kelly ended.        

Jamaican Aiko Jones had 10 kills, four aces and six blocks to lead the No. 4-ranked Louisville volleyball team to a 25-14, 25-14, 25-20 sweep of South Dakota on Friday night at the Coyote Invitational.

The Cardinals hit .369 with nine aces and nine blocks. Anna DeBeer notched 10 kills with Claire Chaussee adding six kills and a block. Setter Raquel Lazaro led with 25 assists and a team-high 10 digs.  South Dakota hit .120 with one ace and four blocks. The Yotes were paced by Elizabeth Juhnke's 15 kills and eight blocks. 

The Cardinals took off with an early lead of 7-4 before the Coyotes countered with a five-point run to take the lead at 8-7 in the first set. UofL pushed back with a 12-1 run to take a 20-11 lead.  Jones had two of her five kills late in the set to get the Cards to set point. A USD hitting error gave UofL the 25-14 win. UofL hit .478 with four blocks and three aces. Anna DeBeer tallied four kills for the Cards.
The Coyotes improved their -.036 hitting from the first set to a .346 in the second but the outcome remained the same as USD again fell 25-14. UofL hit .462 in the set with four aces, all four by Aiko Jones, three blocks and 13 kills. Anna DeBeer added five more to her total and Raquel Lazaro had three kills. USD kept it close early, down just two points at 10-8 before the Cards broke free to go up 17-9 and force a USD timeout.  South Dakota never regained its footing as Louisville took a two-set lead into the set break.

Down 2-0 in sets, South Dakota came out swinging in the third set, standing close to the Cards. Trailing by just two at 16-14, the Yotes let the Cards go on a 6-2 run to go up 22-16. USD made one final push to 24-20 but could not close the set as the Cards won 25-20. Amanda Tillman and Phekran Kong both had four blocks, and Aiko Jones had four kills and 4 blocks. Claire Chaussee zinged four serves by the Yotes for aces in the set.
Louisville are now 2-0 in the young season and South Dakota drops to 0-1. The Cardinals play Missouri on Saturday as the Coyote Invitational continues. 

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