When Florida State volleyball head coach Chris Poole first opened Tiana Jackson’s highlight reel nearly three years ago, he was completely taken by surprise.
Instead of seeing footage of the high school senior’s best spikes and kills, the video simply opened with Tiana leaping up to a basketball rim and hanging on it for an extended period of time.
“It’s not uncommon to be able to jump that high,” Poole said. “But to be able to jump and hold on to the rim with that strength is remarkable. I’ve never seen anything else like that. That caught my attention. I remember thinking, ‘We have got to get this kid on campus.’ ”
“I really wanted to show everyone how high I can jump,” Jackson admitted. “I have a lot of pride in my vertical. You want to put an object next to you to kind of show how high you are actually jumping and everyone knows how tall a basketball hoop is – so that’s what I chose.”
Three years later, Tiana has lived up to the potential and the promise that Poole saw in her from the very beginning, albeit not in the way he imagined.
Jackson was one of six FSU student-athletes named to the Torchbearer 100 list. Not because of her impressive vertical, but because of her impressive selflessness.
After her freshman season, Jackson suffered a tear in her patellar tendon, an injury that she admitted was very hard to swallow. The patellar tendon in your knee is not only responsible for keeping your kneecap in place, but it also enables all bending of the leg at the knee. The most vital concentration of muscles for most athletes – especially volleyball players.
“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t drive or jump,” Jackson recalled. “Coach Poole and I had a lot of conversations to try and figure out how to continue my next steps. He was there the entire way.”
Despite struggling to come to grips with the injury early on, she tried her best to maintain a positive attitude about the injury as time went on. Jackson and team doctors attempted six different procedures to try and successfully rehabilitate her torn tendon.
“Whatever the trainer told her to do, she would do,” Poole said. “She would walk in the gym every day will a smile on her face. We tried a lot of different things, limiting her reps and jumps in practice.”
Unfortunately for Jackson, nothing seemed to work. After her sixth procedure, Jackson attempted to rejoin her teammates once more on the court, but the pain flared back up again almost immediately. Team doctors told Tiana that there was nothing left that they could do.
“It was a very heart-wrenching conversation,” Poole said. “She felt like she couldn’t do it and go on. I felt so lost … We wanted to keep her as part of the family.”
The timing was nothing but perfect. The former Director of Operations for the team had just accepted a full-time position in academics, leaving the position empty and ready for the taking. Luckily for Poole, he happened to know a smart, dedicated young lady that would be perfect for the position. Jackson accepted almost immediately.
Tiana never wanted to leave the game behind but becoming the Director of Operations made sure that she wouldn’t truly have to leave it behind. And the best part for her, was that she still got to support and spend time with her teammates.
“I didn’t want to step away, but it was enlightening to step behind the scenes and contribute in different ways,” Jackson said.
There is something to be said for the drive of an athlete. Competitiveness is seemingly something that all of them have in common. It’s what drives them, makes them better, and keeps them moving forward as people.
For Jackson, there is an interesting duality there. To continue to be a part of the team she loved, yet not be able to actually play must be difficult in some ways. On the other hand, the perseverance and commitment it takes to continue to serve your university, at the lowest point in your career, is remarkable.
Not to mention that Jackson has continued to excel in the classroom, being named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll in 2017 and being a two-time Arthur Ashe Sport Scholar (First Team). Doing well in school has always been important to Jackson – that’s why she chose Florida State.
Her work as Director of Operations has also been preparing Tiana for her graduation, which as of now is set for December of this year.
“My major is human resources, and I am helping managing things behind the scenes for the girls, so it’s definitely helping my future plans,” Jackson said. “I’m also minoring in data analytics and I’m doing some of that as well.”
In all of her work, for herself and others, it’s not a shock to learn that she has gathered the respect of many individuals in the athletic department since her injury. So much so that Coach Poole isn’t quite sure who nominated her for Torchbearer.
When asked if he was the one nominated her, Poole responded with a chuckle.
“It wasn’t me! I’m not sure who nominated her,” Poole said. “She is very well respected in the athletic department and she is involved in a lot of areas – including SAAC – so it could have been anybody. She absolutely deserves it. She is an incredible kid.”
Although who nominated her doesn’t matter in the end, it’s easy to see why she has commended the respect of so many around her.
Jackson gave up what she loved, to help those she loved – and has done so while succeeding in every aspect of being a student-athlete. She is a prime example of not letting unfortunate circumstances get in the way of long-term success.
While she may no longer be leaping up to a basketball rim and holding onto it, with graduation looming in the fall, she hopes that her experience as Director of Operations will allow her to leap to new heights in her time post Florida State University.