The Emerson athletic administration needs to raise a new banner in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym.
For individual successes, its northeast corner presents lists of the men and women who have achieved the thousand-point mark in the basketball program. What’s not presented on that wall are those who have spiked their way to four-figure kills in volleyball, because it’s never been done.
In the second contest of a two-match day on Feb. 20, senior outside hitter Jackson Wiley hit a soft cross-court shot in the third set that landed on the hardwood of his opponents’ side, making him the first Lion to reach 1,000 career kills.
Coming off of a big win against Emmanuel College earlier that day, on the road, and in a game Emerson would lose 3-0 to Johnson and Wales University, Wiley said he didn’t even know it happened.
“I knew I needed six more, but it didn’t feel like six because it was a pretty crappy game,” Wiley said. “I found out after the game and it was still nice. I got a round of applause from my team.”
Wiley, who ended with seven spikes in the loss and 22 on the day, said he learned of his milestone from head coach Ben Read, who made the announcement in the locker room after the match.
“[My team has] been supportive and saying congrats,” Wiley, a visual and media arts major, said. “But we’ve moved on and we’ve got more games to play, and I’m not done getting kills.”
Wiley’s numbers have gone down from his previous two seasons. With 672 kills during that time, he was among the nation’s leaders in Division III. At just over the 2015-16 season’s halfway mark, Wiley has averaged 1.6 kills per set fewer than as a junior, and 1.01 fewer than as a sophomore.
Read said it’s because of freshman outside hitter Mark Piorkowski, freshman outside hitter Win Kittivatcharapong, and sophomore outside hitter Nick Rusk, among others, who share in the wealth with Wiley.
“His sophomore and junior year he was the go-to and we depended on him to do a lot on the court,” Read said. “I’m hoping that he’s liking the fact that he doesn’t have to be that guy every single game and he can let other people step up.”
Wiley said he likes it just fine. He said volleyball has taken a toll on him physically, and that the more teammates who can hit will make for a better overall performance.
“The last couple years we didn’t have as much power on hitting spaced out, but now we’ve got Mark, we’ve got Ben [Hillman], we’ve got Nick,” Wiley said. “We’ve got more chances of scoring everywhere on the court rather than just with me, which is actually kind of nice because my body is on its way to being done with volleyball.”
Wiley gives credit for his success to his teammates, specifically the ones who have been with him since the beginning, his fellow seniors.
“I can’t really play my game without any of them,” Wiley said. “I couldn’t get kills without Brendan’s [McGonigle] sets or Jared’s [Gross] defense, or anyone on the team.”
Gross, the team’s libero, said the combination of Wiley and setter McGonigle has been a constant for the Lions during his time at Emerson, and that they have formed a very close bond.
“Brendan and [Jackson] have been playing together for four years,” Gross, a marketing communication major, said. “[Wiley’s] the guy Brendan trusts the most to get the ball to and that’s what’s contributed to his overall success.”
Gross, who himself reached 1,000 career digs this week, said he believes Wiley has made huge strides in his game since his freshman year back in 2012, with one of his best qualities being his mental ability on the court.
“He’s probably progressed more than any of the seniors,” Gross said. “He’s an incredibly smart player, too, which is tough to do at his position.”
What Read said he admires about Wiley is that he takes his intellectual skills and, while keeping them intact throughout his career, added an ability to hammer down shots to his resume.
“He’s definitely stronger from when I first saw him in high school,” Read said. “His verticals improved, his strength has improved, and he’s gone from more of a cerebral player with tips and rolls to actually being able to hit the ball with some power.”
While Wiley’s play has been monumental for the Lions, he isn’t perfect. However, Read said what makes him such a significant member of the Lions squad is that he can shake off mistakes, and refocus on the match.
“He’s going to demand the ball when he wants it. He can be pretty intense but at the same time he will also keep things light when he messes up,” Read said. “He can laugh at himself and be like, ‘Yeah that was stupid. Alright, send me the next ball.’”
Emerson (5-7) will host no. 10 University of California, Santa Cruz (12-4) Friday at 5 p.m.