HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech volleyball will only have two players 6 feet or taller on its 15-woman roster this fall, but recruits like Jacqueline Aird bring far more important factors than height to the Huskies.
Aird, who stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall - "on a good day," joked the Orland Park, Ill., native - brings a winning background and a workhorse mentality to Houghton.
"She'll run through a wall for you and come back and ask to do it again. She's tough as nails," said first-year Tech coach Matt Jennings, who hopes the five recruits from his first Tech class will lead the turnaround from last year's 2-25 season. "She impressed the heck out of the team and us on her visit. ... I definitely think you'll see her on the court her first year."
Aird has a wealth of local connections, but it was her Chicago-area connections that served as the linchpin in finalizing her commitment to Tech.
She was a two-year varsity starter at libero/defensive specialist at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, a powerhouse all-girls Catholic school on the south side of Chicago; as well as a member of the 1st Alliance club volleyball program, which won an AAU National Championship in 2010.
"I was definitely part of something special, and I wouldn't change the McAuley experience for the world," said Aird, who specialized in volleyball from a young age since her mother Colleen played.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in an occasional series of "Tech Tomorrow 2012" articles throughout the summer on incoming Michigan Tech athletes in several programs. Tech hockey recruit C.J. Eick was featured on June 23.
Both Mother McAuley and 1st Alliance are well known recruiting targets, but particularly to Jennings, who also hails from Chicago. Add to the mix that new Tech assistant coach Nic Paquiz was a coach at 1st Alliance, and the story comes full circle ... almost.
Tech was actually on Aird's radar from the start of the recruiting process in her sophomore year of high school, when Orlando Gonzalez was Tech's volleyball coach.
"Coach Gonzalez was really interested and I went up there last summer and talked to him. It all sounded good," Aird said. "... But earlier this year he called me and I missed the call, and the next day he was gone. ... When the coaching change happened, I didn't really know what was going on. I thought I was out of the picture."
But those Chicago connections paid off and Aird more than impressed the coaches on her visit during spring break, and she committed the Sunday after Easter.
"I would say it's ironic that Jackie and I kind of crossed paths," Jennings said. "We're both from Chicago ... but she has very close ties to the area and Michigan Tech. She's the closest thing to a local kid that we can get this year."
Her father David played football for Tech in the mid-1980s before graduating in '87; her uncle Daniel played hockey at Tech; her cousins Andy, Kevin and Brett Girard played tennis at Tech; her only sibling, 13-year-old brother Brendan attends Tech's hockey camps; and she has a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins who live in the area.
"I've been coming up there since forever," said Aird, whose family typically visits the Copper Country for Christmas, Fourth of July and Easter, with other occassional trips north. "My only reservation about Tech is that it's eight hours away from my house and I'm really close with family down here."
Aird, who will tentatively be majoring in scientific and technical communication, plans to contribute immediately. She believes confidence was the missing factor last year, but she senses renewed motivation and determination in this year's team, based on her visit.
"Confidence is all that's needed," she said. "They're motivated to win. ... They want 110 percent and I'm all about that. I want to give my whole heart out there, and I think the girls at Tech and the coaches want that."
Jennings sure does, and he thinks Aird and junior Tessa Mauer will push each other hard for playing time at libero/defensive specialist.
"I think they're going to feed off each other," he said. "Any combination of those two in the back row is going to be great."
Aird said as libero her primary jobs are to take charge on the court, set teammates up, keep her feet moving and constantly communicate.
"A lot of my coaches have trained me to talk all the time," said Aird, whose off-the-court hobbies include scrapbooking, crafts, swimming, rollerblading and hanging out with friends.
"Jackie is a tough kid that is going to bring as much in attitude as she will in skill," said Jennings.