Jones Makes Impact On, Off the Court

That's because the waffles at the Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community restaurant are Bill Stamey's favorite. So, every Friday, waffles are what they eat. 
Jones, a redshirt senior middle blocker who has been making an impact on the court this season for the No. 24 K-State, took on a second major in gerontology before she graduates this coming December. In her seminar class for the major, she is a part of the mentor program with Meadowlark Hills, which is situated just to the north of the university campus. At the beginning of the semester, she was partnered with Bill and Rae Stamey, and, as often as she can, Jones heads out to Meadowlark Hills to visit with her mentors, a couple who have also become close friends.
"I try to meet up with them at least once a week," said Jones. "We have breakfast. Rae, she's very involved in getting the flower arrangements in Meadowlark and they have a lot of art there, so she likes to show me around."
Bill and Rae are no strangers to K-State as Bill, a former mathematics professor, was the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the university from 1970-1987. The couple has been mentoring students through the class since they moved in to Meadowlark Hills six years ago. However, they said Jones is their first student-athlete mentee.
"She's just very special," said Rae. "We've mothered students every year, but she's just outstanding.  We've really enjoyed her. We do enjoy all of them. They're all different of course, but she's the first one we've had that is so involved in athletics, and that is very special."
Adding to the uniqueness of mentoring a student-athlete, Rae explained it's not just she and Bill who appreciate Jones' visits; the volleyball star has become popular with the entire Meadowlark Hills community.
"People who know she's our mentor, they come up and say, 'Oh, I saw what that Natali did with the volleyball team!' They talk about her a lot when we're having coffee downstairs," explained Rae with pride in her voice. "She is just very special to the people here at Meadowlark. It's a plus that others are interested, too. Some folks go to the games and they tell us about it."
Though the two haven't made it to Ahearn Field House for a match yet this season, they always watch Jones when the Wildcats are on TV. However, the couple is hoping to go to a match soon as a group from Meadowlark Hills is planning a trip to Ahearn.  
"I was never really around younger kids growing up, so I just love being around older people. I feel I can relate to them," said Jones. "Bill and Rae are big supporters of K-State. They like to talk about volleyball and know what is going on, but overall, I just really love their stories. I kind of sit back and let them talk."
Talking, sharing and listening; while Jones enjoys the visits, so does the proud K-State couple.
"She's just so easy to talk with, and she feels like part of the family almost," said Rae. "From the beginning, it's almost been like having a grandchild around. I really enjoy it and my husband does too."
While Jones has been enjoying her time spent with the Stameys off the volleyball court, she has been reveling her time on the court as well. 
Jones leads the Wildcats with a career-high 118 blocks this season and is among the Big 12 leaders in hitting percentage for conference-only matches. Following stellar performances in the Wildcats' wins over Oklahoma (Oct. 22) and West Virginia (Oct. 25), Jones was announced as both the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in her career. 
"She is just on fire in all areas," said sophomore setter Katie Brand. "We've always talked about how she's one of the greatest blockers on our team. She's just someone to fear at the net, and then as an attacker as well. She's just really come along. Her numbers have been amazing and she's really turning into our go-to; if we get the opportunity to set her, we get it to her."
Though she's finding success now, it has taken a lot of hard work, and the journey on the court has not always been an easy one for Jones. 
A South Africa native who moved to Pratt, Kansas, with her family in 2001, Jones came to K-State in 2011 after spending one season playing volleyball for Pratt Community College. At Pratt, she led the Beavers to a Jayhawk West Conference championship after pacing her team in blocks, kills and service aces. She was named Jayhawk West Conference Freshman of the Year and was a member of the All-Jayhawk Conference First Team. 
At Pratt, Jones was the best; she was the star. But upon arrival at K-State, everything changed.
"It's kind of been a roller-coaster ride," said Jones after a practice in Ahearn Field House.  "At Pratt I was always kind of, I don't want to sound arrogant, but I was always better there. Then I came here. I was talking to Suzie (Fritz) a while back, we were talking about my past and I was like, 'I don't know what the heck I was thinking!' My first year here, it was so hard."
Jones wound up redshirting her first season with K-State, and, though she said it was tough sitting out that year, she said it was essential to her learning the new style of play with the Wildcats.
In her first two seasons at K-State, Jones played in a total of 37 sets (three during her sophomore year in 2012 and 34 during her junior year in 2013) and tallied 37 kills and 34 blocks in the two seasons. 
So far this season, her growth has been immense as Jones has been a staple in the Wildcat lineup, taking a step up from her previous seasons by playing in a total of 83 sets and recording 118 blocks and 145 kills.
"I think where Natalie started and where she's come, both as a player and a person, there has been a very, very big transformation there for me," said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz. "When she came in, she was kind of quiet, kind of passive and kind of an observer. But where she's at now, I would describe her as mature and extremely likable. She kind of has a quiet confidence; she's one of our more composed players. Whether we're up really high or down really low, she keeps that same composure."
Now, in her final year with K-State, Jones is playing at an all-time-high. She's been a leader to her young teammates and has been a crucial component to the Wildcats' success so far this season. 
"It feels great," she said about playing well on the court and garnering the player of the week awards. "I feel like all of my hard work is finally paid off, and that feels good."
No. 23 K-State (20-5, 7-4 Big 12) returns to the court tomorrow evening with a matchup against Kansas at 7 p.m., in Ahearn Field House. After earning a 3-2 win at Horejsi Family Athletics Center in Lawrence on Oct. 1, K-State will look to sweep the Sunflower Showdown for the first time since 2011.
For more information on tomorrow evening's game, click here

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