RIPON — A devastating knee injury derailed Jacqui Uecker’s senior season at Ripon High, but she remained positive that her ultimate dream of playing volleyball for a four-year university would eventually come to fruition.
She just didn’t think it would come so soon.
On Friday, with a large group including friends, family and teammates looking on, the 5-foot-8 opposite signed to play for Pacific Union College of Angqwin, an unincorporated community in Napa County.
“It’s always been a dream of mind to play at the next level,” Uecker said. “Now that’s it’s here it’s an amazing feeling.”
Uecker suffered an ACL tear back in October while participating in the school’s powerpuff football game. Although she got to play on Senior Night, Uecker missed the majority of the season. The Indians managed to succeed without one of their three seniors, as they placed third in the competitive Trans-Valley League, compiled a 20-11 overall record and reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals after upsetting higher-seeded Calaveras on the road.
“I was on defense and when I planted my foot someone ran into me,” Uecker said of the injury. “I just heard the worst noise I could have heard from my knee. When I laid on the ground I knew something was wrong.”
She continued to work out with the team, though in a limited capacity, and was on the sidelines for matches to offer encouragement and advice. Ripon head coach Adrienne Beltrami, who is also Uecker’s cousin, said her positive outlook and work ethic helped her recover quickly.
Beltrami had no prior contact with Union Pacific coach Brittany Brown but received an out-of-the-blue text message from her. Brown said she had some needs at certain positions, opposite being one of them, and then came in contact with Uecker, who sent her highlight videos. The clincher was Uecker’s effort at a recent tournament while playing for the Pulse Volleyball Club headed by Beltrami. Brown was in attendance and saw all she needed to see.
“It felt like everything was meant to be,” Beltrami said. “She was able to play in the last couple of club tournaments and I started to realize that maybe there was still a possibility because we didn’t think she’d be able to play at all for club.
“God works in mysterious ways. I had never spoken with Brittany before, and she reached out to me and said she’s recruiting for certain positions. I saw it as a great opportunity for Jacqui.”
Uecker joins an improving Pacific Union team coming off two straight winning seasons. From 2005-12, the Pioneers won no more than four matches in a single season, but Brown guided them to their best finish in program history with a 17-10 finish in 2013.
Pacific Union went 5-5 in the California Pacific Conference and 15-12 overall last fall. It lost to Cal Pac champion and NAIA National Championship qualifier Menlo in the conference tournament.
“It’s an amazing school and one of the most beautiful colleges,” said Uecker, who will major in psychology. “I got to meet the team, played a match with them and they’re great people. I’m looking forward to it.”
Beltrami believes Uecker can contribute right away as a true freshman and added she should be 100 percent ready to go for the season.
“She’s a huge blocker, one of the best if not the best I’ve ever coached,” Beltrami said. “She’s very intuitive and sets up the block really well on the right side. Jacqui leads by example and works hard, and when she talks people will listen because there’s a calmness about her tone. I know she’ll bring that to her college team as a freshman.
“I’m just so proud of her,” Beltrami added. “It’s a testament to her working hard, getting good grades and being a good person. It’s a great story people can learn from, that when you go through things like that to never give up. It can be really scary. She could have easily given up on volleyball but she didn’t.”