Alexis Acevedo was 9 when she met Julie Jenkins, the women’s volleyball coach at Trinity University. The Acevedo family lived practically across the street from the school in San Antonio, Texas, and Alexis’ parents took her to a volleyball camp.

Jenkins must have seen something in the little girl, who, by her own admission, had no idea how to play volleyball. The coach suggested the Acavedos get Alexis into club volleyball.

It was a light-bulb moment for the family.

Fast-forward nearly 10 years. Acevedo was considering attending Trinity because her sister did. But even though she had become a talented high-school setter, college volleyball wasn’t in her plans.

“I just wanted to go to college and kind of experience it on its own, without the sports life,” Acevedo said. But her mom signed her up for a recruiting camp.

“And, sure enough, (Jenkins) roped me in with the same personality from that first camp that I went to when I was little,” Acevedo said.

“It ended up being the best decision I could have made: To stick with volleyball, No. 1, and to play at Trinity.”

Acevedo became a team captain, was named to the All-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference second team, and amassed more than 1,000 career assists. As a senior, she and junior setter Marisa Amarino led Trinity to a 34-3 finish last fall (16-0 SCAC) and the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Acevedo’s is just one in a long line of volleyball success stories under Jenkins — one that has lasted 37 years at Trinity.

And in October, Jenkins joined an exclusive club — recording her 1,000th career victory when the Tigers swept Centenary.

Trinity coach Julie Jenkins

Along the way, Jenkins has had plenty of chances to coach elsewhere.

“I did interview for other positions because people asked me to,” she said, “but I had no intention of leaving.

“And to this day, I feel very in awe of Trinity and definitely feel fortunate to have the gig that I have had all these years.”

Sharing the milestone

It wasn’t lost on the Tigers last October 1, when they went to Shreveport, Louisiana, to play at Centenary, that victory No. 1,000 was next.

Outside hitter Avery Tuggle, a senior co-captain and AVCA first-team All-American, remembered the players’ being mum about the pending achievement in the days before. She said they knew that Jenkins wouldn’t want to be the focus.

“I remember our freshman or sophomore year when she had another milestone-type of win, we started calculating when the 1,000th would be,” Acevedo said said. “The COVID season kind of messed that up, but it was something we still looked forward to. And then we were like, ‘Oh my gosh! We’re going to be here for that one!’ ”

With her team comfortably in control, Jenkins made sure all 18 players got into the match.  That, said her captains, made the night extra special.

“She didn’t want it coming from six people because it’s not those six people that got her to the thousand,” Acevedo said. “It’s every single player who has come through the program.”

Tuggle added: “That was really, really special. There are players who don’t get to play that much, and for us to be in that position for coach’s 1,000th win and everybody got to kind of touch the court … she couldn’t have put together a better scenario in her head for her 1,000th win.”

1,000 wins for Julie Jenkins/Tresa Thornton photo

It was a scenario Jenkins never envisioned.

She has a vivid memory of legendary Juniata women’s/men’s coach Larry Bock’s 1,000th career victory. That was in 2004, and Jenkins was wrapping up her second decade in coaching.

But reaching Bock’s longevity and win totals?

“And I remember thinking, ‘Who does that?’ ” Jenkins said. “That’s crazy. I distinctly remember it because I remember thinking, you’re never going to see this again.

“When I did hit that milestone … I thought, wow. I never expected this.… I thought it was mind-boggling when Larry did it.”

Starting out

Jenkins’ achievement is no less mind-boggling, especially considering how she got her start.

Julie Jenkins

After graduating from William & Mary, where she played tennis and volleyball, and getting her master’s degree at James Madison, Jenkins knew she wanted to coach.

She taught elementary physical education for a year before getting her foot in the door at Virginia Commonwealth. There, she got her first coaching job — as the interim head coach.

Jenkins had been playing in an adult volleyball league, and most of the players were coaches and ex-players. That’s where she connected with Wendy Wadsworth, then VCU’s coach.

Wadsworth was taking a one-year sabbatical and recommended Jenkins as the interim.

“I never trained under a head coach,” Jenkins said. “I was never an assistant coach. Never had a GA position in coaching.… I didn’t know squat. I had to fend for myself and get it figured out.”

Jenkins said she has no particular recollection of her first win, but she does remember winning the Sun Belt Conference championship. That was something the VCU women’s volleyball team hadn’t done before.

But the achievement wasn’t necessarily memorable for Jenkins because of the title. It was more what it would mean for her long-term.

“I really felt my career was on the line,” she said. “I inherited a good team. I felt like, if I wanted to get another job.…”

In the mid-1980s, she said, if someone wanted a coaching job, they attended the AAHPERD (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance) convention. It was there that she discovered Trinity.

At that time, she said, Trinity was Division III in all sports except tennis, and the Tigers women’s team was ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Stanford. As a former college tennis player, Jenkins had her interest piqued. She also was taken in by the school’s familiar feel, likening it to William & Mary with its high academic standards and financial stability.

She also was impressed by what then-university president Ronald K. Calgaard envisioned for the school’s athletics department.

“I had never set foot in Texas before,” said Jenkins, a native of Oswego, New York. “I never envisioned myself staying at one university my entire career. But I will say that over time, I realized what a great place I was at, and the president came through with everything he said he was going to do.”

The key? Hard work

Meanwhile, Jenkins continued her “on-the-job training.” She said she went to every coaching clinic she could and attended the AVCA convention every year.

The secret to her success, however, might just be good, old-fashioned hard work.

“She’s prepared beyond belief,” Acevedo said. “She just gets so excited (for practice) because she’s probably been preparing for 10 hours for one practice.”

The hard work resulted in Trinity’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1992, which also was its second year in the SCAC after a long stint as an independent. Jenkins has fond memories of that season, particularly the first tournament match.

“I did not want to lose that match,” she said.

Trinity, indeed, won its NCAA debut — and even reached the round of 16 — giving Jenkins one of her fondest coaching memories.

A few other wins stand out among the 1,000, but Jenkins was vague on some details because she said she had too much respect for her opponents. Here are a few:

— The Tigers’ reverse-swept a conference rival in back-to-back matches, the first to win the conference title and the second in the NCAA round of 32.

— At one regional tournament, Jenkins didn’t have a good feeling about her team’s chances. Her skepticism was such that she packed enough clothes for only two matches and even checked her team out of its hotel before the first match.

Trinity ended up winning not only that match but also advancing to the national quarterfinals. Jenkins said she had to go out and buy another outfit — and she made sure to take extra clothing for the next phase of the tournament.

— The final memory Jenkins shared isn’t so much of a specific match.

Trinity’s nemesis early in Jenkins’ tenure was Washington University. Wash U won seven Division III national titles, including six straight from 1991 to ’96.

“We would lose to Washington University year after year after year after year,” Jenkins said.

In 1999, Wash U was moved out of the South region, and Jenkins finally saw Trinity’s chance.

“Our team was so sick and tired of losing in the round of 16,” she said, “and we were on a mission. It was our goal to make it to the final four.”

The Tigers did, going all the way to the national championship match before losing to Central College (Iowa). That remains Trinity’s most successful season to date.

No end in sight

Jenkins isn’t giving up the quest for a national title just yet, and how many more times she will try isn’t clear.

“I love the competition. I absolutely enjoy being able to coach these student-athletes,” she said. “I’ve been lucky enough that I have remained healthy and have the energy.

“I think for me, as long as I am passionate about what I am doing, and I can give what I need to give our program to keep progressing and improving, I’m going to keep doing it.”

Trinity celebrates winning the 2021 SCAC title

So what’s the secret of her success? With four more wins, Jenkins will have 1,000 at Trinity alone — she won 23 in that one season at VCU and finished the 2021 season with 1,019 overall wins — and will become just the third Division III coach to reach the mark. She has led Trinity to 13 SCAC tournament titles, 26 NCAA Tournament berths and seven trips to the national quarterfinals.

That doesn’t happen by accident.

“I’ve always had an open mind that it’s not my way or the highway,” Jenkins said. “I think I’ve always taken on the attitude that there’s not just one right way.

“You better evolve. You can’t be dead-set in your ways. But I also think as you evolve and as you change, you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it that way and then explain it and get your players to understand.”

To hear the players talk, it’s Jenkins’ willingness to care about them as people that has made the biggest impact.

“When I was being recruited, I was talking to a player, and she said something like, ‘Coach makes you feel so special. She wants you to come play here, but I have been playing here two years, and she never stops treating you like that,’ ” Tuggle said. “It’s always been the same love and care, and that spreads to our entire team.

“In general, it’s her genuine care for each player. Every conversation you ever have with her, you never have half of her. You have her full attention.”

Acevedo now does a little coaching of her own. Though law school is on the horizon, she coaches 12- and 14-year-olds in club volleyball. And she said she takes a little bit of Jenkins into her practices so she can try to do for those kids what Jenkins did for her as a 9-year-old.

“I think it’s to care for someone and to understand that the small moments with them could really impact their life,” Acevedo said. “That was such a small moment of me going to that camp, but for her to take the time aside to talk to my parents and again at the recruiting camp when I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing.

“I see all the things she did for me, and I want to make volleyball just as positive an experience for these 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds who are just starting off the journey. I know what a coach can do for players’ lives, and so I don’t want to take that for granted as I coach these little kids.”

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