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Pam Olson
Janelle Tongaonevai, Hunter volleyball

WEST VALLEY CITY — Jazmyn Davidson always knew she had the best sisters a girl could ask for.

She didn't realize until recently just how many sisters she actually has.

"Janelle and my other older sister Jenise were big role models for me," said Davidson, an all-state volleyball player who graduated in 2011. "Especially in volleyball. I was more wanting to play basketball. But Janelle and Jenise, they made me have a love for volleyball. They helped me to pursue it as I grew older and they always supported me."

In the wake of a tragic car accident on Sept. 1 that killed Janelle Davidson Tongaonevai and injured Davidson, the former Hunter standout setter is getting love and support from her other sisters — her sports sisters.

"I was in the hospital when Pam (Olson, head coach of Hunter's volleyball team and the school's athletic director) told me their idea to dedicate the Pink Match that they always play to me and my sister."

It's a volleyball match that usually aims to earn money for cancer research at Huntsman Cancer Institute through Swing For Life, a non-profit started by Rowland Hall softball coach and cancer survivor Kathy Howa.

"When the accident happened, I just started thinking about it," said Olson, who's coached all three of the Davidson girls in volleyball. She approached Howa about changing the purpose of the annual match, and Howa told her as long as no one made donations thinking they were going to cancer research then she would support their effort to give the money to the Davidson family.

Olson said they hadn't begun raising funds yet, so they immediately went to the hospital to talk it over with Jazmyn.

"I talked to her and her mom and they said 'We'd be honored,' " Olson said. "We wanted to do it because Janelle was Jazzy's main support. If you read any of the stuff Jazzy has written, she says 'I am who I am because of Janelle.' "

Olson said Tongaonevai supported her financially and emotionally in reaching her goals.

"She brought her to games, paid for her to play volleyball, to just do everything she wanted to accomplish," Olson said. "With Janelle being gone, it's a huge emotional void, but also a financial void."

And while Olson knows Davidson has the love and support of a large family and extended family, the team and coaches felt very strongly that they wanted to offer her and her family a show of love and support, as well as offer them very real help.

"We want to create a fund for her to pay medical bills, tuition, just whatever she needs to go back to school and achieve her dreams," Olson said. "With her injuries, there was some talk about her having to withdraw. We still don't know if she'll be able to attend classes this fall or wait until spring."

Hunter High's Pink Match has usually been very successful, and Olson is hoping this year is no exception. The match is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m. The team is hoping to get community members and businesses to donate items for a raffle. Last year, they had a television set, and another year someone donated a washer and dryer.

Olson said great prizes help them sell raffle tickets and raise money. This year's opponent is Kearns, and Olson said the Cougars' coaches have been very supportive of changing the beneficiary of the fundraising efforts.

"There are players on (Kearns') team who have ties to the family as well," Olson said. "So far we have a lot of food coupons, but we're hoping for some bigger items."

Arby's, Pizza Hut, Delton Bowling Lanes and Frito Lay have all stepped up to offer coupons and prizes. Anyone interested in donating money or prizes can contact Coach Pam Olson at polson@graniteschools.org.

The players are looking forward to giving back to the Davidsons, as many of them have benefited from the leadership of the three women.

Olson said all three Davidson girls were great athletes, but even better people.

"Janelle graduated in 2004," said Olson of the four-year starter and all-state player. "She was our team MVP as a junior and senior. She is just a great leader. She just always looked out for everyone, and Jazzy is the same way. She always took care of the other players, and if they're struggling, they could always come talk to her."

Davidson said she and her sister were extremely close and she had lived with Tongaonevai off and on.

"I talked to both my sisters every day," Davidson said.

Tongaonevai was a newlywed who married her high school sweetheart, Ron Tongaonevai, last summer after seven six years of dating. Ron is a junior defensive lineman for the University of Utah's football team.

"When Janelle and Ron got married, Jazmyn wanted to give them space, but she was there all the time," laughed Olson. "Ron has also been a huge party of Jazzy's life. He's been just like another brother to her."

Davidson and Tongaonevai were driving home after watching the University of Utah's season-opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium when they were involved in the accident that killed Tongaonevai and injured Davidson.

Davidson said she, Janelle and Ron had "our own little triangle bond. Anything I did, him and my sister always supported me."

The University of Utah football team was granted a waiver to pay the funeral expenses for the Tongaonevai family, and Davidson said others have extended a hand of support and friendship at what has been a devastating time.

"I appreciate the support so much," she said.

The young woman said she was touched when Olson told her what her former teammates wanted to do for her. It's not just about raising money; it's a way to pay tribute to a wonderful woman.

"In everything she did, whatever she was doing, she always did it to the fullest," Davidson said of her sister. "She put every aspect of life into everything she did. She went above and beyond what was needed."

Davidson said there are "too many" favorite memories to single out any one in particular.

"When you're with her, she was a very happy person," said Davidson. "She made a big impact and touched a lot of people's lives. … What I admired most about her was her outlook on life. She just always did more than was necessary and went above and beyond."

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com