Let's Go, Mustangs!

Kaylyn Winkler & Hannah Jacobs

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Kaylyn Winkler

Mustangs, it’s go time!

While we were stuck in quarantine this past season, I made a pact with my teammate, Hannah Jacobs, that we would use that downtime to rest and recuperate.

However, when the time came to return to volleyball, we would go hard—harder than we’ve ever gone before.

That time spent at that little cabin in Hunt, Texas, away from society, might be my best memory of our friendship together. It wasn’t so much as quarantining as it was a time for reflection. Through the good, bad and sometimes ugly, Hannah has always had my back.

And I’ve always had hers.

A chance encounter

The sport of volleyball brought us together. Of all the things, too. Singing in the choir and reading books were more my thing when I was little, not athletics.

And then genetics happened.

I shot up like five inches in a year, and that’s when my dad made the suggestion: “You should try out for a sport.” Volleyball was really the only sport I was willing to give a chance.

Who would have thought I’d end up loving it?

I made the decision to move to Texas to live with my dad and pursue the sport competitively. It was a club team in San Antonio where I met Hannah for the very first time. She was one of my first friends when I moved.

We were the only two new people on the team and decided to partner up together. There was just this instant connection from the start. So naturally, we were pretty much tied at the hip throughout high school.

We did everything together.

Some of my favorite memories are of us traveling and exploring the cities. Man, the adventures we would go on together, just walking around and watching the other volleyball tournaments and stuff—it really takes me back, you know?

But then college happened, and we both went our separate ways—me to Northeastern and Hannah to SMU. I remember standing next to her after our final tournament together, thinking this is it. It’s the last time we’re ever going to play together.

There was a lot of distance between Texas and Northeastern. Sure, we could stay in touch through Facetime and stuff.

But in that moment, all I could think about was that it would never be the same again.

Never say never

I guess you should never say never, right?

I entered the transfer portal after my first semester with Northeastern. I knew I wanted to move back to Texas, so I started looking at a bunch of schools when Hannah suggested SMU.

“You know, SMU needs a middle blocker—not trying to persuade you, but let’s go get lunch and talk about it,” she said.

She can be pretty persuasive when she wants to be.

But it wasn’t just about rejoining Hannah. I chose SMU because I loved everything that it had to offer. Reconnecting with my partner in crime was pretty much the cherry on top.

Once I signed with the Mustangs, she made the transition so much easier for me. It’s hard enough being the new girl on a team, but with Hannah there, it never felt like I had to start over. Things just came together naturally.

At one point, we were both on our computer, and Hannah said, “You want to room together, right?” And I was like, “Duh!”

It was like I never left.


The breakthrough moment

I didn’t just rekindle my friendship here at SMU, but I also found my confidence as well.

Something I’ve always struggled with was breathing problems due to asthma. It’s been a mental battle that I’ve always fought in the back of my head.

But during summer workouts this year, I was finally able to push through it.

I’ve always been doubtful of my abilities on and off the court. But that particular moment—overcoming that mental hurdle—was a turning point.

It flipped the script for me. That was when I really knew I could do this.

I’m so glad Hannah planted the SMU seed in my head. Even just this one achievement makes it all so worth it.

It’s nice having someone around that I’m so close with that I can lean on. She knows exactly what to say when I’m struggling. It comes naturally to her because she understands me as a person.

We’re on the same wavelength. We always have been, and we always will be. I had to move across the country to really see that.

And now that I’m back, I’ve never been happier.

I didn’t just rekindle my friendship here at SMU, but I also found my confidence as well. Something I’ve always struggled with was breathing problems due to asthma. It’s been a mental battle that I’ve always fought in the back of my head. But during summer workouts this year, I was finally able to push through it.

Hannah Jacobs

There’s a certain level of comfort that can’t be replicated when you’ve shared the court with the same teammate for six years. But Kaylyn Winkler hasn’t just been my teammate since high school.

She’s been my best friend.

I often think about all of the things that happened in both of our lives that led up to us meeting, along with the unusual circumstances that brought us back together in college.

I can honestly say it’s been one heck of a ride.

But we’ve been on this journey together—me and Kaylyn—since the very beginning. I couldn’t picture myself finishing it without her.

Who is Jordan?

We were both two newbies joining our first big competitive club when we initially met. Neither of us knew anyone on the team.

So naturally, I just kind of latched onto her.

I remember being so nervous that first day that I didn’t even introduce myself properly. She thought my name was Jordan for the longest time.

It’s hilarious now when looking back. I think it was actually a few practices before she finally started calling me Hannah.

But we grew close quickly.

We’re both very positive and bubbly people on and off the court, I’d say. There’s also our genuine love for the sport of volleyball and tough competition.

Personally, I was on a mission to earn a scholarship to play at the collegiate level since the eighth grade, before I even met Kaylyn.

I wrote up a mini contract for my parents with the deal being they’d buy me my dream car (a Jeep Wrangler) if I earned a college scholarship playing volleyball. Of course, they went in thinking the odds of that actually happening were slim to none. So they played along and signed my little contract.

Guess what I’m driving in college.

Kaylyn and I pushed one another to get to that next level, not even considering the fact that we might have to go our separate ways. But that’s exactly what happened. She went to Northeastern, and I stayed behind in Texas to attend SMU.

Everybody is always optimistic in the beginning that distance won’t be hard to maintain a close friendship.

But it is hard. It’s very, very hard.

We left nationals that year thinking we’d never play together again, but life has a funny way of bringing things full circle.

The Texas reunion

After one semester at Northeastern, Kaylyn made it known that she wanted to come back home to Texas. Once I had that little piece of information, that’s when “Operation Get Kaylyn to SMU” went into action.

I remember driving up to San Antonio to meet her for lunch. I told her, “Kaylyn, think about us playing together again. SMU is so much fun!” I basically gave her the full pitch, and I’d like to think I did a pretty good job of it, too.

When I heard the news that she was actually coming to SMU, I was just super excited to have her around.

Our relationship has grown and strengthened more now than it’s ever been. In high school, we went to different schools, even though we spent a lot of time together at club. But at SMU, we are going to the same school, living together, and playing together. We’re basically together 24/7.

And I love that.

A once-in-a-lifetime friendship

For now, all of our focus is on our senior year. We are so determined to make this our best season yet.

And after that, we’re both taking our fifth year of eligibility to decide what we’re going to do after college.

So doubtlessly, there are many more adventures to come.

Our compatibility is why our friendship has lasted for this long. We’re just always on the same level, basically—you know, the one where you’re finishing the other person’s sentences.

But so much more has come out of this friendship.

My little brother hangs out with her little brother, and our parents are really good friends now as well. Everything just lines up when it comes to our friendship.

It’s meant-to-be kind of stuff just to have her in my life, much less on the court with me. Friendships like the one we share don’t come around often.

But when they do, you cherish them forever.