Growing up in a small suburb east of Evansville, Ind., Jessica Nunge had a very competitive upbringing. Not only were her parents former collegiate athletes, but her older brother and sister are also collegiate athletes. So, when the entire family is home, one could imagine the level of petty remarks that get flung around the dinner table. The ones that aren’t uttered during the Nunge family pickup basketball games anyways.
“The Big 10 is better – Jack will say that a lot,” Jessica said. “Then Rebecca and I will always respond and say that the ACC is where it’s at. And then just between me and my sister, we play different positions in volleyball but we still compete a lot about which position is better or harder. We pick on each other a lot.”
Jack plays basketball at Iowa and Rebecca played volleyball at Notre Dame before graduating in 2019.
It’s not just athletics that the family is competitive about. Even when they were kids, the Nunge siblings also competed with one another in the classroom, attempting to get the best GPA or the best grades in certain classes. They always pushed each other to be better.
Though she chose to play volleyball in college, Jessica also enjoyed playing basketball in high school. She was following the footsteps of her parents, Mark and Beth Nunge, who played basketball when they were in college (Rochester University and Central College). Mark is an ER doctor, and Beth is a retired physical therapist.
“My mother is very competitive,” Nunge laughed. “She still likes to walk around the house like she is the top dog and pushes us all around. My dad probably could have played well a few years ago, but now he’s had to kind of take a step back.”
It’s not uncommon to find with collegiate volleyball players that basketball shows up somewhere in their story. Jessica’s older sister, Rebecca, also played high school basketball before early enrolling at Notre Dame for volleyball. When it came time for Jessica to choose between the two sports, she too fell in love with the game of volleyball and never looked back.
“It was the way I felt when I played volleyball,” Jessica explained. “Basketball was always so much fun. It got me in really good shape and made me mentally tough, but I just purely loved playing the sport of volleyball more.”
The love of volleyball has led her to Florida State. Nunge enters her sophomore year as a Seminole, ready to dive head-first into a promising yet peculiar season.
Four out of the five power conferences will have a season, but the season will be split into two segments – an eight-game stint in the fall and a championship season in the spring.
The Seminoles have a host of talented returning players, including six seniors. With only one true freshman on the team this year, it’s among the most returning players that Head Coach Chris Poole has ever had.
“Heading into January, we told the team: ‘What an advantage we have this year,’ ” Poole said. “Then our offseason got cut, so we didn’t get to have the advantage we thought we were going to have. Still, there are a lot of players returning that are comfortable with each other and have already made that transition to Florida State. They understand our wants and needs on and off the court. We’ll have to see how the players react on the court once we finally face an opponent.”
It’s certainly going to be a challenge. Poole and his coaching staff have had to ditch the proverbial training manual for this season. March through July is when most of the intense offseason training is done for volleyball and it’s also when the pandemic has raged strongest. Training still needs to be done so that players can get physically ready to take on the season and being away hasn’t exactly allowed any of them to catch up.
“I’ve been pleased with how hard the players have worked,” Poole admitted. “They have been extremely committed and dedicated. We feel like we have made gains. We aren’t where we normally would be but, then again, everyone is in the same boat in trying to navigate this season.”
Nunge added by saying that the team does mini-lifts every day, along with early scouting on the teams they’ll be playing this season. For now, the team is hyper-focused on the teams they’ll be seeing in the upcoming weeks.
“I’m so excited for what the future has in hold,” Nunge said. “I’m happy we are playing this fall. There is nothing more fun than being able to play in a game. Practice is great, but when the game comes that’s when I get the most excited.”
When asked about what it’s like playing for Coach Poole, Jessica got a huge grin on her face.
“Coach Poole and I think the same way, Nunge said. “We are very analytical. He gives me the kind of feedback that I feel like I learn from the best and I understand the most. He is very particular about the fundamentals of volleyball.”
“I would agree with her on that, 100 percent,” Poole echoed. “When I’m talking to her, I feel like she takes in everything, understands and wants to know more. She is a tremendous athlete, has a tremendous work habit. She is a student of the game, she is not afraid to ask why – and I love that – because if you try to teach a player, and they aren’t understanding and aren’t willing to say why, they may not be willing to make a change.”
According to Nunge, the work ethic is due to her high school days as a basketball star. Well, that and the rigorous family competition.
“Playing basketball and volleyball in high school put me ahead physically. In volleyball you have to be able to read and predict tendencies, and that also applies to basketball. You need to know who you are defending for example, which hand they like to dribble with, and if they like to fake. It really helped me prepare for volleyball and knowing what to look for.”
The ability to not only play in the fall, but to play with a scholarship is something that Nunge holds very close to her heart. She is the third child out of five to go to college, and the other two are planning on becoming collegiate athletes themselves.
“When I came to Florida State, I knew that I would be competing at one of the highest levels of volleyball in the country,” she said. “I knew that I would learn a lot from the coaches, and I also knew that I would get a great education. My family and I are super grateful for everything. College is so expensive, so the fact that I have a scholarship lifts a giant burden off my parents.”
With the scholarship, Jessica currently is enrolled in pre-med courses but may switch to biology. She doesn’t know quite yet what she wants to do but considers the potential switch to biology to be an opportunity to explore and try other things that would otherwise be locked by the pre-med / pre-vet course.
That aside, she also seems to be an increasingly vital part of a veteran Florida State volleyball team that has championship aspirations. If her past is anything to go on, she is certainly prepared for the challenges that being a student athlete will present her.