Gray, Fitzmorris Still Making An Impact on Volleyball Back in Kansas

  0 Wendy Mayer | December 13th, 2017 | College - Women's Indoor, High School, News, Pac 12

What started as a before they were stars type piece and one highlighting the impact three hometown heroes of the Final Four are having on their high school and club teams as collegiate standouts quickly changed when we realized that some people are just born with it, have always been stars and began making an impact before they ever left home.

When you are 6-foot 5 as a freshman volleyball player or you’re playing with eighth graders at a summer camp when you are in fourth grade because you are “just too good to put with kids your own age” or drawing the attention of college coaches who want to sign you in eighth grade, that is kind of freakish or some would say you are “special.”

When we checked in with the high school and club coaches of Audriana Fitzmorris AKA Audri/Fitz, Jenna Gray and Jazz Sweet, we found not only great memories, plenty of emotions, and proud moments from before they were college stars. We also found that their impact on those programs was both immediate when they were part of those groups and continues as their stars rise to new levels. We also found that their on the court standout moments were matched by touching off-court acts and selfless love for team, coach and family.

In this story, we will focus on Audri/Fitz and Jenna. We will feature Nebraska star Jazz Sweet in a second story, because there was just too much to cram all into one story. These there are stars after all.

Both Audriana Fitzmorris and Jenna Gray, now sophomores who played on the 2016 Stanford national championship team, played their high school ball at St. James Academy for Coach Nancy Dorsey and for the Invasion volleyball club their final three seasons. Fitzmorris, an Overland Park, Kansas, native is now a 6-foot-6 middle blocker for the Cardinal, turning in 2.34 kills per set at .386 clip and putting up a team-best 1.51 blocks per set. Gray, a Shawnee, Kansas native, is a now 6-foot-1 setter piloting the Stanford offense to the tune of a .322 team hitting percentage with 12.14 assists per set, a team-leading 44 aces and 1.45 digs per set.

Before They Were Stars… Jenna Gray

St. James Academy head coach Nancy Dorsey noted the moment she knew that Jenna was “special.”

“I have known Jenna since she was a little girl, since her older sister Rachel played for us,” said Dorsey, who could go on for days talking about both players. “One of my favorite memories of her is that we have these kids camps in the summer and as a fourth grader she came. She was just so advanced even then that I had to put her in with the seventh and eighth graders. And I can remember these eighth graders all huddle up saying she is really good, but she is so little. She was teeny, so skinny and hadn’t grown yet. They were saying, I don’t think she is in eighth grade, and I said, no she is 8 or 9. They were just like oh my gosh. She was just setting these balls, and obviously couldn’t block over the net or anything like that yet, but she was just so naturally gifted even that young that you knew she was going to be special. I don’t think any of us could even have guessed that she would become the player that she has, but that became increasingly more and more obvious as time went on.”

With obvious setting talent, isn’t wasn’t at that position that Jenna made a big impact on her team as a sophomore. The Thunder had just one experienced hitter coming back, so the Dorseys – Nancy and her husband Brian, an assistant coach, decided they would have to have Jenna hit. So, a new era and new project began, one that Jenna could not have been dedicated to.

“She had never hit before, but we said, she is so athletic and so smart and big and strong, there is no reason that she can’t,” Dorsey shared. “So, over the summer, I said, J, how do you feel about hitting and she said great, I’ll do it. So, in typical Jenna fashion, she went to hitter camps and did everything she could to try to get better at it, to get some swings. Every year we go to KU camp, because I played there and it is a fun experience as a team. We were playing this team from Iowa in bracket play, and we were getting killed like 20-11, and Fitz wasn’t there because she was with the USA team at the time, and Jenna just looked at me and said, this isn’t going to happen. It was summer, it wasn’t for a trophy or state title or anything, but she looked at the other setter and said ‘set me the ball.’ She set her just about every ball and we ended up winning. It was one of those things that didn’t mean anything as far as our season, but it was just another, yep, you are different moment. Everyone on our team was just like that is a different level right there, you are just better than everyone else. It was fun to watch.”

And it was a foreshadowing of things to come. The Thunder played with Jenna at hitter the next two years, where Dorsey says she hit around .600, amassing a ton of kills in just two rotations. Fitz and Jenna played opposite one another so one would always be in the front row.

As if her volleyball ability was not enough, the Dorseys encouraged Jenna to spread her wings and try out another sport.

“We said, hey Jenna, you are too good of an athlete not to play another sport, you owe that to your high school and yourself,” Dorsey recalled. “Go do something fun. Volleyball is obviously what you are best at, but you are going to be good at something else. So, she went out for track and won two state titles in javelin and went on to throw javelin in college and be an All-American. That is not normal. You don’t just do that and win state titles, but that is Jenna for you. She has always been a natural talent and natural athlete.”

As for a moment that Dorsey will always remember about Jenna, it would be winning the state title her senior year.

“She was just other worldly; she played out of her mind,” Dorsey said. “It was one of those moments where you are so emotionally drained as a played because you have just left everything out on the court, and it was so important to win that state title for her school, for her team and for us coaches. That was really a moment that I was incredibly proud of her.”

That was the team’s third Kansas state championships (2012, 2013, 2015) and brought Jenna Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, PrepVolleyball Co-National Player of the Year and Under Armour All-America first team honors.

Mark Ethridge, who coached Jenna as an assistant on Invasion VBC’s 17’s team and was the head coach her 18s year, recalled how impressive she was no matter what sport or skill she was working on.

“Jenna could have been a high level player at several positions,” Ethridge said. “She consistently won passing competitions when given a chance, was a very good blocker and served teams off the court. Her exploits in high school track (state champ in javelin) reflect her ability as a complete athlete. She dabbled in sand volleyball and took to it immediately. She always wanted more and more training and did many outside sessions to improve her individual skill.

“Before they came to our club, they were 15, playing on a 16s team and I believe they won a national championship. At that age, they were both playing up and to the point where they were not just playing up for the experience but were contributing to a national championship team. That is when you knew that they were going to be special.”


Before They Were Stars …. Audriana Fitzmorris

Fitz was 6-4 or 6-5 as a freshman in high school, it wasn’t her height that impressed coaches and fans alike, Ethridge said.

“You hate to say it, but Audriana was freakish with her body control at such a young age,” Ethridge said. “Even when she was 13 and 14, people would say, you just can’t believe how well this kid can move and how coordinated … that was the term you always heard with Audri, was how coordinated she was for someone her size. She had such a well-rounded game for someone her size. She loved playing back row and ended up playing all six rotations most of the time. She was a student of the game and never took her natural abilities for granted. This translated into a constant desire to improve. She loved watching video and tried to use stats and scouting to improve her game. Audri didn’t let outside, off-court distractions influence her play. She was a joy to coach.”

Although Dorsey didn’t meet Fitzmorris until her freshman year, it was quickly apparent that there was something different about her, but it wasn’t her skill or her height that stood out right away.

“For Fitz, one of the things that stuck out to me, and this is going to sound really stupid, but at our first practice, she shagged balls like no other person. If she was out of the drill for two seconds, she was running down balls and putting them in carts. Typically a kid like that that is just head and tails physically above everyone else, they are not chasing balls. That just speaks to her character. She is not above any of that. She is not above learning. She always wanted to stay after and talk to me about things, and how can I fix that, etc., sometimes to her own detriment. We had to work with her and say, sometimes it is not about the angle of the ball or the position of this or that, you can hit over the block, just go make that happen.”

But that isn’t to say that her 6-4 frame didn’t catch the attention of Dorsey and alert her of the possibilities.

“It was really easy when she walked in the gym and you saw her play to see the potential that she had,” Dorsey said. “At 6-4 or 6-5 as a freshman and was super agile and was really able to pass. It was really exciting when she walked into the gym, knowing that she could be a six-rotation player for us at some point. Her first two years, she played middle and then the next two years we moved her opposite Jenna. She literally played everywhere. We kind of adjusted everything offensively to how can we get Fitz the ball. She had close to 700 kills her junior and senior years. By her senior year, she was 6-6, hitting out of the back row, passing at a high percentage and digging a ton of balls too.”

All of that talent was put on display in one standout match at the beginning of Fitz’s senior year as the team made the trek to Louisville to play take on Assumption and Sacred Heart to prepare for what appeared poised to be another great year for St. James Academy.

“We knew their senior year that we were going to be really good and we wanted them to play the best, so we went and played Assumption and Sacred Heart in Kentucky, two storied programs who are incredibly good every year,” Dorsey recalled. “In the game against Sacred Heart, Fitz has 39 kills and it was a three-set match. That was in addition to 15 digs and passing a 2.3 and I don’t know how many blocks off the top of my head. Thirty-nine kills in a three-set match is just not normal and against a really quality high-level opponent. It was one of the most fun matches I have coached in… ever. It was just this moment where everybody knew she was going to get the ball and she made magic happen every time she touched the ball. We ended up winning so that was a bonus on top of watching this girl say, we are going to win this game dang it. We drove here nine hour to play these matches and we are leaving with wins. She just completely took over both matches, but that 39 kills was hard to believe.”


Despite all of the accolades, all of the victories, a national championship and more, the thing that sticks out most those who know Fitz and Jenna is their humility, their demeanor and their selfless nature.

The pair can often be found visiting their high school programs, helping out with summer camps, leaving little notes of encouragement to their coach and making Dorsey’s children and other kids feel like they were the center of attention, instead of themselves.

“I think I can speak to both of them that as good as they are as players, they are even better people,” Dorsey said. “I have always been impressed by both of their humility and eagerness to learn, which is why they are as good as they are… They knew we were having a kids camp and no one asked them to come, but they just came walking in grabbed a ball, say hey, gave me a hug and went and ran drills with the other players. They are never too big for their britches. When you are that gifted and winning national titles, there are just so many things that can go wrong in terms of ego, and neither of them have that. We would give them the shirt off of our backs, and I know the same would reciprocated.”

The relationship the pair has with the Dorsey family has included moments from Jenna and Fitz finishing up playing in the Under Armour All-America match as seniors and immediately taking time to pick up one of Dorsey’s five children or sit down on the floor to play a game with them. The pair also has been known to play couch volleyball with the kids at the Dorsey’s home over summer break.

Dorsey prides herself on the profound relationships she has with her players, but didn’t know how a simple word of kindness from Fitzmorris could affect her even two years later.

“I just found in my purse the other day a letter that Fitz has written me. We have a staff retreat every year at Christmas and Fitz wrote me a letter to tell me she was grateful for me. I keep all of those things, but for whatever reason I had kept in my purse and I found it. It is just the sweetest. It is so Fitz. She is not going to come up to your face and tell you, but she is a beautiful writer and beautiful person. It was a beautiful letter that just made my day again. She just said I hope you enjoy this day and take some time for yourself because I know you don’t have a lot of it. What 17-year-old girl thins to herself, Coach Dorsey has five kids, she probably doesn’t have a lot of quiet time to herself. I hope she goes and enjoys that and I want her to know how much she means to me. That is not normal.”


Not only has Fitz and Jenna’s success brought awards and trophies to their team at Stanford, but it has brought spotlight to the places that knew them when. The pair of part of a larger group of Kansas City standouts, including Jazz Sweet from Shawnee Heights, who plays at Nebraska; Regan Pittman and Lexi Hart at Minnesota, and many more.

“I think it just speaks to how great the volleyball is in Kansas City, so I am really happy for that reason that they are having so much success,” Dorsey said. “It is spotlighting our area and showing people that Kansas is legit and has some really good volleyball. And of course, I am happy for our school because that is just good for our girls and the rest of the girls that are going to play in our program. It is going to spotlight the fact that they got o a school that has quality volleyball and quality players and coaches. We are happy for the that they are having the success they are having and I am happy for the kids in our program still that knew them and idolized them and watch them play growing up and got to see that in their own backyard. There is a cumulative piece to all of this. If Karch Kiraly is saying St. James Academy on ESPN, that opens doors for girls that are playing for us now and girls who may play for us in the future. I think Jenna and Fitz should be applauded for that. The special stuff that they are doing is going to open up a lot of doors for kids in Kansas City in general and especially at St. James Academy.”

At Invasion VBC, the impact the duo has made began before they ever walked out the door to head for Palo Alto, California.

“Before they even hit the college level and won a national championship, those players were important for our club, because the club started growing with a lot of younger players,” Ethridge said. “Having them visible to the younger players and truthfully to the parents too, and having them see what could happen and what level you could reach with our club on a daily basis, at tournaments and at practice, that is when it got started.”

These stars will continue to make an impact on volleyball, Kansas City, St. James Academy, Invasion VBC and the world for many years to come and it is safe to say, the area is ready to watch and cheer them on.

Dorsey said nearly every one of the players in her program is going and some parents even bought tickets when they were first available without even knowing for sure that Stanford would be in the field. The Dorseys will be there with their five kids in tow and expectations are high.

“We are very excited for them; it couldn’t happen to two better kids,” Dorsey said. “We were fortunate enough to be in Columbus last year when they won and we are hoping to have a repeat of that experience. I am pretty sure that we made spectacles of ourselves in the section that we were in last year, cheering ‘that’s my girl’ every time they did something. Pretty much everybody I know in this area that loves volleyball is going to be there. I just don’t think there is anybody whether they played against them or watched them play that isn’t rooting for them because they are the kind of kids you want to root for.”

And Invasion VBC will be well represented in Kansas City too, with club director Amy Benne sharing that there will be “a TON of Invasion players/parents attending the NCAA Tournament and we will all be cheering loudly for Jenna and Audri.”

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About Wendy Mayer

Wendy Mayer

Wendy Mayer has worked in athletics media relations for the last 20 years. The Northwest Missouri State alumna is currently senior writer for after spending the last 15 years with Purdue athletics.

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