Lubbock Christian University volleyball coach Jennifer Lawrence is LCU's winningest head coach in program history and is approaching 300 wins (292 wins as of Sept. 25, 2016).
At the helm of the Lady Chaps for her 13th season, Lawrence has led the Lady Chaparrals to five conference titles and a pair of NAIA National Tournament appearances. She serves as the head coach of the program she once stared for. The El Paso, Texas native was a setter for the Lady Chaps from 1991-1994 and claimed 1,847 assists and 499 career digs. Lawrence also excelled in the classroom, claiming NAIA Scholar Athlete accolades in 1994.
But all said, it is not the on-court success or the coaching wins that has labeled Coach Lawrence. It is her ability shine and pick others up when they are down.
Let it be stated, there will not be any quotes or comments from Coach Lawrence in this piece. If Coach Lawrence knew that a story would be published about her, she'd put an end to it. Coach Lawrence serves God and she serves other people. She seeks to make a difference in people's lives. All without being recognized.
"She has always been a very compassionate person and really cares about her student-athletes and assistant coaches," said LCU director of athletics Paul Hise. "She is a very supportive person and her motherly instinct is very strong. She is competitive by nature, but really is more concerned with helping others and making sure they are being supported physically, emotionally, and spiritually."
When Coach Lawrence speaks or offers knowledge and wisdom, people should listen. Her peaks and valleys in life have faced some deep valleys, but her actions have always made sure a peak followed.
Prior to coaching at LCU, Lawrence served as the volleyball head coach at Denver City High School in Denver City, Texas. In August 2003, Jennifer and her husband Jerry, formerly the Denver City softball coach, had to miss a portion of the volleyball season to be with their infant son, Camden, who was undergoing open-heart surgery at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. She would rejoin the team and coached Denver City to their sixth district title in seven seasons. DCHS qualified for regionals and it was there that Lawrence would coach her final game at DCHS. Denver City lost in the regionals to Monahans in a game played at LCU's Rip Griffin Center. She would later return to Rip Griffin Center on Feb. 12, 2004 to be introduced as LCU's new volleyball head coach and the first female head coach in LCU history. But, between visits to Rip Griffin Center, there was more than just a scenery change from Denver City to Lubbock for the Lawrences. There was another trip to Houston and unfortunately there was a medical procedure Camden didn't make it through. On Jan. 7, 2004, Camden made his journey to heaven, just 10 days prior to his first birthday.
"I was not at LCU when her son passed away, however, I have seen her tell the story to many groups over the past 12 years," said Hise, who began his tenure at LCU just months after Lawrence's arrival. "Even though it is very painful, she has been able to help others by telling the story and explaining how God helped her family through her son's death."
Coach Lawrence still battles tragedies today. Some are major and some are minor, but she equally takes time-out to provide guidance. On Sept.6, in LCU's home opener, Channing Castleberry was playing in her first home game since her 2014 Heartland Conference Freshman of the Year campaign. In the third set of the match, Castleberry reinjured the same knee she injured during a scrimmage in 2015 that resulted in her missing the entire season. Back-to-back season ending injuries for Castleberry, who has relied on Lawrence's faith.
"Coach Lawrence is the first one to help… always," said Castleberry. "Every single girl on this team has had a personal meeting with coach (Lawrence) and it is not about how we are playing, but how we are growing in life. She genuinely cares about us. When I got hurt the second time, she went with me to my appointments."
Tuesday (Sept. 27), Castleberry went to the hospital to have surgery completed on the same leg she injured in 2015. Coach Lawrence was there.
"I feel as if I motivate myself (during this new rehabilitation process), but she is always there pushing me," stated Castleberry. "She tells me it is okay to be sad and okay to be hurting but not ok for Satan to steal my joy. It is not one of those things where I'm injured and it's continue on without me… I mean the season is continuing, but she pushes me (through motivation) and it encourages me to push myself to be better when I return."
Castleberry is not the only player to suffer an injury. The well-documented incident with Malori Maddox is another example. Maddox suffered a life-threatening brain bleed in the middle of a game at Midwestern State on Nov. 10, 2015 in Wichita Falls, Texas. Emergency surgery had to be performed and a continuing two-month stay in Dallas filled with surgeries and rehabs had coaches and teammates spending a lot of time to help Maddox battle through. At the time of the incident, LCU was two days away from playing a conference contest at Oklahoma Panhandle State, but Lawrence was the first to say "We are not playing!" Lawrence's focus was to direct her team to be there for Maddox.
"Coach did more than encourage and help me during my therapy and recovery," said Maddox. "She stopped a lot of her priorities to walk the storm with me. That is so brace, selfless and powerful. She knows what it is like to hurt and struggle. It is real and powerful because she relates and loves so well."
"For the team, she (Coach Lawrence) was our comfort (during the time of Malori's incident)," Castleberry added. "She said 'you can be sad, you can be happy, you don't have to feel a certain way,' and that we can feel however we want. She was very calm when we did not know what was going on, and we (the team) fed off of that."
The bond between player and coach does not end at graduation for Lawrence and her student-athletes. Saturday (Sept. 24), Coach Lawrence chose to recognize one of her former players that had just suffered a similar situation to what the Lawrence family had experienced with Camden. Kelsey Williams (formerly Kelsey Odell), a former four-time all-conference selection, gave birth for the first time on May 26 to a daughter named Nora. Six weeks following the birth, Nora was diagnosed with Leukemia and passed away Aug. 4. Coach Lawrence dedicated their Sept. 24 game (vs. Newman) to the Williams family and encouraged fans to wear orange for Leukemia Awareness and to honor Nora's life. The LCU volleyball team presented the Williams family a stone engraved with Nora's name to be placed in the Children's Memorial Park on the LCU campus. Katie Turnspeed, Annette Mahan, Gonzalo Ramirez, and Jennifer Hardin of the School of Education department also presented children's books in memory of Nora to be donated at the place of the family's choice.
Another former player Coach Lawrence has assisted is Brittany Roberts, who also served as an assistant coach under Lawrence. At the beginning of the 2013 season, Roberts' son Cooper began having seizures and would require a stay at Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Cooper was diagnosed with Hypotonia, a state of low muscle tone, and while Roberts was occupied on helping her son, Coach Lawrence was spearheading efforts to help the Roberts family financially.
"I've learned what it truly looks like to have a servant's heart," said assistant coach Mandy Polk, who is in her second tour of duty working under Lawrence. "God puts her in the middle of crisis and she doesn't hesitate to start helping. Also, she truly loves each one of her players. It doesn't matter if it was at the beginning of her coaching career or now. If she knows that someone has a crisis in their life, she's going to find a way to help."
As days continue, wins will increase, losses will increase and a new opportunity will present itself for Coach Lawrence to lend a hand to. Student-athletes will also come and go, but as they go, not only do they take a more in-depth understanding of volleyball with them, but they also take a sense and understanding with them on how to handle tough situations whether they are their own or to close friends. They also have a life-long friend they can rely on being there for them.
"It is definitely more than a player-coach relationship," said Maddox. "God used the opportunity of playing for her to bring us together. But our relationship now has nothing to do with volleyball. We are just super close friends. She is always so in tune with the Spirit and knows exactly when and how to encourage me when I need help. She has walked through paths of sadness and hurt, and has such a big heart to help others whenever they encounter trials too. She is an angel to me."