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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
BYU outside hitter Veronica Jones-Perry servies in an NCAA first-round match against Princeton at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.
It's the most exciting time of the year for us and there's a lot of energy here at practices. We've worked hard for this and I think day-by-day that it's going to be a cool journey for us. —Veronica Jones-Perry

PROVO — Attending BYU can be a challenge for someone not of the LDS Church faith, but fortunately for Veronica Jones-Perry, she's largely risen to the occasion. The junior outside hitter just completed a stellar regular season, with a team-leading 505 kills and first-team West Coast Conference honors, and now looks to lead the Cougars into what hopes to be another deep run.

"It's the most exciting time of the year for us and there's a lot of energy here at practices," Jones-Perry said after a practice session for the first round of the NCAA tournament, which begins on Friday. "We've worked hard for this and I think day-by-day that it's going to be a cool journey for us."

Jones-Perry's journey at BYU wasn't anticipated when starring for Copper Hills High School in West Jordan, as she had her sights set squarely on playing for Utah. But after some hard recruitment by the Cougar program, she opted for Provo, despite the inherent challenges involved for a non-LDS athlete.

Fortunately for the 6-foot Jones-Perry, she quickly found a tremendous support system in her teammates.

"I've never in my life been on a team that's more of a team that this one is. Not even close," Jones-Perry said. "You go in the locker room and there's no cliques, no drama — not anything that would make you uncomfortable or feel like you don't fit in. Everyone has your back on the court, in school and anything in my life. I know everyone is there for me and it's been an amazing experience."

'Roni', the name Jones-Perry goes by to just about everyone, has lent her leadership and support, in turn, along with providing great play since she first joined the program in 2015. As a freshman, she played regularly and was named to the All-Freshman WCC team as a result. She continued to progress her sophomore year and ended the year strong with some great play in the NCAA tournament.

This year, though, the 6-foot outside hitter has taken her game to another level.

"Roni has done an outstanding job this year," said BYU coach Heather Olmstead. "She's improved her overall game, so she's not coming off the court for us. So that's obviously a big improvement for her, to play six rotations...Overall I'm just really pleased how she's progressed as a player and as a person."

As with most things, Jones-Perry's BYU experience hasn't consisted entirely of smooth sailing, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

"There's times on campus when people will say things where I'm just like, 'OK, that was a little hurtful,' because students here just don't know. They assumed everyone's LDS, and that's fine. It's to be expected," Jones-Perry said. "But it's overall been a really good thing for me. It's pushed me to grow as a person and to have a lot more of an open mind. I wouldn't have been pushed like this and been able to grow like this at any other school."

Helping along with most challenges, however, has been the constant and uplifting culture she finds with her BYU teammates and coaches.

"I can't tell you how many times I've had an experience with another team or seen things with different teams and different cultures where I'm like, 'I am so grateful that I ended up at BYU and made the decisions that I did," Jones-Perry said. "I think I've not only loved it here, but like I said, I've grown tremendously. I love BYU and I'm so grateful to be here and have the opportunities I wouldn't have had anywhere else."

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Cougars on the air

No. 13 BYU (28-2)

vs. American (26-7)

Friday, 7 p.m. MST

Smith Fieldhouse, Provo


Live stream: ESPN3

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney