Puerto Ricans help Jimmies build volleyball program
Correa and Cancel played together in high school at Colegio San Benito in Mayaquez.
As the University of Jamestown prepares to make a run at a national title, they will be doing so with two players from Puerto Rico on their squad, Ever Cancel and Derek Correa. Despite being from different parts of the island, Correa and Cancel went to the same high school, Colegio San Benito in Puerto Rico, and played together there.
Correa comes to the Jimmies from Vega Baja, and Cancel is from Mayaguez. This season, Correa has become the team’s starting setter and Cancel is a middle blocker off the bench.
Cancel said that the decision to come to Jamestown was easy after he received a scholarship offer to play for former head coach Riley Salmon.
“As everybody knows, that ended last year when Travers Cox got elected as head coach over the summer," Cancel said. "That decision to come back was really all about the guys I had met over all three years here and the culture we made for our team and our program.”
Correa said he came to Jamestown because of Salmon’s Olympic pedigree as he competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning gold in the latter.
The average temperature in January in Mayaguez is 76 degrees, which Cancel said made coming to Jamestown a big change.
“It was a big change especially with the weather, coming from a tropical island where I’ve never seen snow before,” Cancel said. “Coming in my freshman year and seeing all the snowstorms, it was rough at first but you gotta adapt at the end of the day.”
Cancel said Correa helped talk to Salmon about bringing him into the program during his official visit.
“He actually got me to come out here with him, because I had all the offers from different places,” Cancel said. “When he came up for his visit, he told me to send him my film for Riley Salmon to see and then I saw an offer. Then it was just weighing out the pros and cons, for what decision to make, what school was the best fit for me and ultimately I ended up going with Jamestown. It seemed like the right fit and it has been ever since.”
The two have been in the program since the inaugural season in 2019-20, and have played for Salmon and current head coach Cox. Because he was the assistant coach under Salmon in the 2020–21 season, Cox said he has seen the two grow a lot over the last two years.
“Both work hard, in the gym as well as in the weight room,” Cox said. “So, both have done great in regards to being in shape, being physical, being protective on the court. On and off the court, they’ve done pretty well.”
When Correa came to the Jimmies program, he said he worked on learning how to play with the rest of his teammates outside of Cancel.
“It just made me focus on the other players since I already knew how he played,” Correa said.
The fact that the two were friends before coming to Jamestown was helpful for homesickness, Cancel said.
“I knew Derek for about a year before coming to Jamestown because we went to the same high school in our senior year on a scholarship,” Cancel said. “It was good having somebody that I knew coming into the college, so that I wasn’t completely alone, having to go about it by myself.”
Cancel said that the friendship they share helps him be more comfortable on the court because they have built up a trust over the years.
“The connection between setter and my position, which is middle, helps a lot because it makes things way easier whenever we are in games, it helps to ease my mind,” Cancel said. “I calm my nerves down because I knew I could trust him because I’ve been with him for three years now. I just love playing with him.”
Cox said he would welcome more players into the program from the territory as long as they are ready to put in the work when they arrive on campus.
“If they want to come to Jamestown, I will bring players in from wherever,” Cox said. “If they want to come to North Dakota and Jamestown and want to come work hard and be a part of a great program and a great school, we’ll bring you in.”