August/September 2009 Pair of Aces Annett Davis Jenny Johnson Jordan Nick Dunn
They were highly recruited freshmen on the UCLA volleyball team when they first met — one a shy high-school standout, who quietly went about her business; the other a gregarious, fun-loving star, who quickly made friends with everyone she met.
Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan had never talked before their time as teammates at UCLA, but they certainly knew of each other.
"In high school we didn't like each other's club teams, and her team was awful," Davis said, a hint of competitive rivalry still in her voice. "My team hated her team, which meant I hated her because she was on that team."
"Our spiritual bond has definitely helped us. We have that extra dimension that some other teams don't have."
– Annett Davis
It didn't take long for the "hatred" (as if the kind-hearted Davis was even capable of such a thing) to subside, and soon the star duo discovered they were perfect for each other — and not just for sets and spikes.
Jordan and Davis had undeniable chemistry on the court, which was evidenced by their All-America careers at UCLA and their ensuing Olympic and AVP Tour success in beach volleyball. But their mutual faith in Christ created a lasting bond — one that has helped them grow and learn from each other through more than 15 years as teammates.
It wasn't difficult for Jenny Johnson Jordan to learn how to live as a star athlete. She was a firsthand witness to a great example every day. Her father, Rafer Johnson, was an Olympic decathlete who won the silver medal in the 1956 Games in Melbourne and the 1960 gold in Rome.
Jordan was born well after her father's athletic peak, but it was from him that she learned a lesson of humility. Johnson would never talk about himself or his athletic achievements. Instead, he chose to focus on the accomplishments of his children.
"I really didn't know a lot about his athletic career because he did such a great job of allowing my brother and me to shine in whatever we were doing," Jordan said. "But my parents wouldn't have stood for any kind of cockiness or showboating or anything like that. We were taught from a very early age to be humble."
The Johnsons raised their children in a Christian home, but, according to Jordan, it wasn't until the end of her freshman year at UCLA that she truly entered into a personal relationship with Christ. After that decision, however, she was able to put her athletic career into perspective and knew that all she could do was give God her best and leave the results — wins and losses — up to Him.
Growing up the daughter of one pastor and the niece of another, Annett Davis had no shortage of biblical wisdom and leadership around the house. As a kid, she learned to love God's Word, even citing Bible as her favorite subject in elementary school.
But Davis soon learned that there was more to being a Christian than just memorizing verses. The summer before her eighth-grade year, while visiting some cousins in Mississippi, she went to a church lock-in. That night, she realized she needed a relationship with the Lord, made the decision to surrender her life to Him and began a journey of faith.
The AVP Tour is in need of more Christian fellowship, and FCA's Daniel Rich wants to change that.
Jenny Johnson Jordan (center) with Messiah College volleyball players and FCA Huddle Leaders Lauren Bourdon and Brynn Lateri at the Central Pennsylvania FCA Athlete of the Year Banquet.
After joining FCA staff in December 2008, Rich is spearheading an effort to start a sport-specific volleyball ministry, and he sees Davis and Jordan as the perfect examples for what faith can do for two teammates.
"They are both rock solid in their faith," he said. "They definitely stand for something different. You can see it by the way they play and act and how they hold themselves."
Both Jordan and Davis have participated in previous FCA ministry events such as camps in California and outreach opportunities at the NCAA Volleyball Final Four. And, according to Central Pennsylvania Area Director Sue Kelly, who serves yearly at the ministry surrounding the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention, both women have always been incredibly willing to help.
"They're great Christian athletes," Kelly said. "I've been watching them play together for quite some time — since college, actually. They're well-known as Christian witnesses in beach volleyball, so they're very much a light in that world."
In college, Davis continued to grow spiritually and learned the power of discipleship by being challenged and motivated by a spiritual mentor through Athletes in Action.
Now the wife of a pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, Calif., Davis is trying to pass on the lessons she has learned to younger ladies in the church.
They say that opposites attract. If there's any merit to that, add Jenny Johnson Jordan and Annett Davis to the list of examples. Personality-wise, the pair couldn't have started out much differently.
"Annett is still kind of quiet, but in college she was super quiet," Jordan said. "As a freshman, she hardly said a word, so it was hard to get a read on her and what she was thinking."
For whatever reason, the two "hit it off from the beginning," according to Jordan. After stellar college careers, including a 1991 NCAA National Championship, Jordan and Davis soon made the switch from hardcourt to sand and got together as beach volleyball teammates.
For Davis, it took some convincing.
"I just hated the beach, hated the sand and didn't want anything to do with it," said Davis, ironically a lifelong Californian. "I love the game, but the sand is just gross and dirty, and I still don't like it. If it's on me, I want it off."
Over time, though, Davis learned to thrive despite her discomfort in the sand. Good thing, too, as she and Jordan have become one of the world's premiere beach volleyball teams, placing fifth at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and ranking in the top 10 on the AVP Tour every year they've competed.
In a sport where teammates last about as long as Hollywood celebrity couples, Jordan and Davis have been a model of consistency and loyalty. In 2004, they became just the second team in history to compete in more than 100 events together, and they are currently the longest-tenured teammates on the tour.
Both of them agree, though, that if their only common link was a passion for volleyball, it wouldn't have lasted this long.
"It may sound a little cheesy, but I kind of feel like God is our third teammate," Jordan said. "That's not to say in terms of wins and losses, but He allows us to understand each other a lot better. We're more open with each other because of Him."
Added Davis: "Our spiritual bond has definitely helped us. We have that extra dimension that some other teams don't have. When we don't have a good day, there's something beyond the court for us."
According to the pair, their opposite demeanors perfectly complement each other on the court. Jordan provides the energy, excitement and "emotional fireball" attitude, while Davis tries to remain even-keeled and go with the flow. In other words, if a referee makes a questionable call against the team, it's safe to say Jordan will be the one more likely to (respectfully, of course) let him or her know about it.
"One thing I've learned from Jenny is that she knows how to fight for what she believes in and what is right," Davis said. "I admire that about her."
And the lessons go both ways.
"I've learned from Annett just to be quiet sometimes," Jordan said, laughing. "Sometimes it's better just to sit back for a second, take everything in and think about it."
At this point, honestly, I'd keep playing until it just wasn't fun for us anymore."
Thirty-five-year-old mother of two isn't the typical profile of an AVP Tour player. But it describes both Davis and Jordan, who maintain a competitive level despite time demands that most other players don't face.
"I thought I'd be done in 2001 after I had my son," Davis said. "All of a sudden it's 2009."
Throughout their careers, Davis and Jordan have gone through life milestones together, even having children in the same years: 2001 and 2005. Partnering for training is more difficult now that Jordan lives in Pittsburgh with her family (her husband, Kevin, is the chaplain for the Steelers), while Davis and her family remain in Southern California.
But they're taking it year by year, and, so far, at the conclusion of each season, they are both unwilling to call it quits. Some friendships are just meant to last.
"We've been playing together for a long time," Jordan said. "I feel like, as long as we're in good shape and get some time together, we will be OK. At this point, honestly, I'd keep playing until it just wasn't fun for us anymore."
Perhaps Jordan's life verse (Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men…") rings true in both her and Davis' volleyball careers. The longtime teammates will keep working hard and being a light on the AVP Tour until God calls them into the next chapter of their lives.
"That verse just keeps my motivation in check for why I do things," Jordan said. "It's easy to lose that if you're playing in front of 10,000 people, but that verse always brings me back to my focus. It's important to keep Him at the center of it all."
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of John Green/Zuma Press; Holly Stein; Sue Kelly.