Brower, Suseland duo a force for GVSU volleyball
The pair have a strong relationship on, off the court
The Blackhawks and the Red Wings. The University of Michigan and Ohio State. No matter where people turn in life, personal rivalries play a huge role.
It could be that scrappy point guard from a rival high school. Maybe it’s the kid who sat two rows to the left that always got the highest grade in the class. Or maybe it’s something all the way back to a kid playing backyard football with the neighborhood kids.
But it's not so typical for those arch rivals to join forces on the same team.
Just ask Grand Valley State volleyball players Staci Brower and Jayci Suseland what it’s like and they will tell you.
Brower, a sophomore, was a four-year varsity player for Byron Center high school and was drawing interest from GVSU volleyball coach Deanne Scanlon as early as her second year of high school. Upon arriving to Allendale in 2015, all she did was lead the team in blocks and kills, earn GLIAC Freshman of the Year honors and make All-GLIAC First Team.
Meanwhile, Suseland, a freshman, is tearing up the GLIAC in her first collegiate season and currently leads the Lakers in kills (198) and is second in blocks (41). She sits at 10th in the GLIAC for kills and eighth in kills per set.
The two played for the same club in high school and often found themselves on opposite sides of the net, but now have begun to forge a meaningful relationship both as teammates and as friends.
“I instantly knew that she was a great player so when I would come into the gym I kind of wanted to be better than her, so I would try harder and just try to outperform her,” Brower said during a joint interview with Suseland.
Suseland noticed her teammate’s competitive fire right away.
“She did. I pretty much knew it,” Suseland said. “Like, she was so much better than me. I wanted to be like her someday. One time, we were scrimmaging and I blocked her and it hurt my hand so bad, like I’m never doing that again.”
Attend a GVSU volleyball game and Brower and Suseland are two of the most noticeable players at any given time, as Brower is listed at 6'4" to Suseland’s 6'3", they send echoes through Fieldhouse Arena with their violent kills onto the hardwood and strike intimidation into their opponents.
The similarities continue with their signature blonde hair, though Brower has long curly locks while Suseland wears hers short and straight.
Their attention to detail and care for their craft is something their teammates appreciate and emulate.
“When I’m on the court with Staci, we’re definitely two players who play best at the highest levels of energy,” said GVSU sophomore Shannon Winicki. “Whenever we’re out there we can kind of just go to each other and whenever we get a crazy point or crazy kill I know I have her to just jump around with and be crazy with. It kind of just loosens up everyone on the court and they know that we can have fun and play hard.”
Meanwhile, Suseland, who was described as a “free spirit” by Scanlon, is not necessarily the loudest player on the floor, but she demands respect with her play and her progression from the first day she walked on to campus is going faster than anybody expected.
“I turned to (assistant coach Jason Johnson) on the bench during Saturday’s match after it was obvious that we’d go to Jayci because she was having a great weekend. After she took a big swing and got a tough kill, he said ‘that kid’s getting an edge to her,’” Scanlon said. “She’s carrying herself with confidence that she didn’t have a month ago even though she was that good a month ago.”
When the girls played on the same club, they knew each other by name and respected each other’s game, but that was about the extent of their relationship. Now that they are teammates, though, their dynamic on and off the court has changed.
Brower and Suseland are becoming closer by the day, and their relationship is proving fruitful for the team as the two stars form a cohesive front unit when on the floor together.
“Sometimes when we’re blocking we weren’t quite sure where we were going to move, but now that we’re closer friends, I can look at Jayci and know where she’s going to go and we can just say one quick little word and we’ll know what the other person’s going to do, so that helps us to feed off of each other,” Brower said.
The relationship has also helped the two help each other get better, as their shared competitive and responsibility-bearing personalities make it easy to critique the other’s performances, but also to get each other out of their own heads.
“She pushes me and motivates me because I know that I’m kind of following in her footsteps, so whatever she tells me I know that it’s true, that it’ll work,” Suseland said.
Sometimes, they motivate each other without a word even being spoken.
“In rotations sometimes when she’s in and I’m not in, I just know that she’s going to do what she needs to do and then when it’s my turn she’s going to expect the same out of me, so it pushes me and I’m trying to match what she does. I’m trying to be just like her,” Suseland said.
Brower replied to her teammate’s comment—not before being interrupted by Suseland with a laugh and a comment about how Brower keeps saying what she is thinking.
“I think it’s a lot of fun because we always have somebody to be pushing each other,” Brower said. “Sometimes you feel alone on the court because you’re not always sure who to reach out to when you’re on the court, but when I’m with Jayci or even if she’s on the opposite side of the court, I know that she’s there and she has my back and we’re always competing.”
Laker volleyball fans and family can take solace in the fact that the Brower and Suseland duo will continue to push each other further every day, and return GVSU volleyball back to the national prominence the program knew before a mass roster overhaul a few years ago.
Both will pass their work ethic, instinct and passion down to future generations of Laker hitters.
Besides, it’s what happens when you and your rival join together.
“You don’t constantly have that enemy on the other side. Now we’re together so we’re a stronger force,” Brower said.
A force they most certainly are.