Volleyball is far more than just a game for Josi Borum. The fun activity she started as a youngster has become an integral part of her life, in many more ways than she could have ever imagined.
But the biggest thing the sport has done for the Sterling senior is bring her closer together with her siblings, and provided the common interest that she and her three sisters never had when they were little.
This year, that bond proved to be a big piece of the puzzle in the Golden Warriors’ first-ever volleyball state championship – only the second state title in school history – and Borum was the key cog in that run, not only as captain and senior leader, but also as a talented do-everything player on the court – especially in the clutch.
“You couldn’t quantify what she did for this team,” coach Dale Dykeman said. “She was a player that if you needed a point, she’d get you the point, however she needed to. And you knew that, and you saw that through the postseason – when things got tough, Josi was usually the one that came through in the clutch moment with something that we needed.
“She’s always been a phenomenal player, and that really showed, but the leader that she turned into … it’s just been awesome watching her grow.”
Josi Borum’s journey in volleyball started the same way as so many others: she wanted to get better because of her older sister.
Jailyn Borum is 3 years older than Josi, and the two got to be on the same roster in 2015 when Jay was a senior and Josi was a freshman. And while Josi didn’t get much court time that year on a team loaded with talented upperclassmen, she did learn some lessons that proved to be incredibly valuable a few years later.
“I learned a lot from Jailyn; she helped me so much,” Josi said. “I think she and the other senior leaders on that team, they just kind of taught me how to do it – and it helped me this year being able to teach the younger kids and the juniors about everything that’s important.”
But as much as she learned about leadership from her older sister, Josi looks back on Jay’s final game as a Golden Warrior as a key moment in her own drive and determination to win a state title.
“I’ve always looked up to Jailyn, and we got close when we were both in high school,” Josi said. “I think her senior year, seeing them lose to L-P in the sectional final, and seeing that look in her eye when it was over …
“And now I was the senior, and being able to play with Breelyn and Brooklyn, and being able to kind of help them through their freshman and sophomore years, and eventually being able to win the state title with them on my team, it was just awesome.”
For her part, Jay saw the leadership potential in her younger sister even back in the days of playing with her as a wide-eyed freshman.
“Josi has always been a really quiet player, so even-keeled, just really calm, cool and collected,” said Jay, who just finished up her junior season at Illinois-Springfield. “You didn’t always notice her at first, but then she just goes out and does huge things on the court. She’s so mentally strong, and just has a leadership personality – that ability not to offend people, but still push them to get done what needs to get done.
“And whenever it’s her time to shine, she’s not afraid to go out and step up. She amazes me … and the funny thing is, she doesn’t even think she’s that good. She just goes with the flow, and always does amazing things.”
While the 2015 season brought a closer connection to her older sister, the last two seasons have done the same thing for Josi and her sophomore twin sisters, Bree and Brook.
Even as freshmen last season, the younger Borum sisters showed they were special players. The two of them and libero Lexi Rodriguez burst onto the scene as ninth graders, and will likely rewrite the Sterling volleyball record books before they’re done.
But it’s been Josi’s guidance and leadership that has helped her younger sisters feel so comfortable so quickly on the high-school stage.
“Josi saw what a great leader Jay was, so she knew that she wanted to be the same for me and Brook, and just give us everything we needed,” Bree said. “She’s so mentally strong, and she’s such a great leader, and we were all so lucky to have her.”
“Josi really stepped into [Jay’s] shoes as a leader in basketball and volleyball,” Brook added, “and she really helped me as a freshman and this year. She leads us through everything; she has a lot of energy, and she brings everyone up even when she’s not having her best game – and if we’re not having our best game, she steps up and swings for us. It’s pretty great having her out there with us.”
For her part, Josi was thrilled to be able to take part in something so special with her little sisters – and she’s the first to say she’s prouder of them when they succeed than she is for herself.
“For them to say that about me, that means I did my job, and that means I was able to help them toward a state championship,” Josi said. “I’ve always rooted for them, and they’re great volleyball players – honestly, I’m jealous of them – and it makes me happy to see them do good things.”
Things weren’t always so tight around the Borum household. As little kids, the sisters spent more time “doing our own things,” as Jay puts it, than competing together on a court.
“I was not close with them when we were little,” Josi said of her sisters, “but just like I got close with Jailyn when we played together, now I’m close with Breelyn and Brooklyn, too. I think now we’re all really close, and that’s really special for all of us.”
“We used to hate each other,” Brook added, not mincing words. “But now that we’re older and in high school and on the same teams, we got pretty close. It’s pretty great going home and telling her everything, and then coming back on the court and playing with her and sharing this experience with her.”
Volleyball, as much as anything, is the reason for the change, and it still works in defusing potential problems to this day.
“I think it’s really nice we have that bond,” Bree said, “because even if Josi gets mad at me for wearing her clothes or doing something she doesn’t like, when it comes to volleyball, that’s something we’ve always had in common and we both love, so the tension kind of goes away and it’s like we’re best friends. I think I got so lucky in the aspect of having the sisters I have; they’re amazing people, amazing athletes, and I love them so much.”
“When we were little, we’d tear each other apart,” Jay added. “We could be so bad to each other. But volleyball brings us together, and now we’re all super-close. It’s nice to have good relationships with my sisters, and it’s a bond not a lot of people can say they have.”
And while Bill and Tami Borum can thank the sport for bringing a little peace to their household, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still times when things can get a little tense.
“Sometimes it gets a little heated, especially when we talk about sports,” Josi said. “My parents, they’re coaches, so they like to help us and tell us what to do … but it’s not bad when we go home. We just talk about what we can do to be better. Sometimes it’s therapeutic, sometimes it’s not.”
As one would expect in a family of stellar athletes, that sibling rivalry doesn’t turn off; it’s always there, pushing each of them to excel.
“I think it’s a sisterly competition; we can really get each other with that,” Jay said. “We’ll sit at dinner and give each other crap back and forth about what we’ve all done volleyball-wise.
“But with the state title, I can’t win anymore, so I just sit back and let them go at it,” she added with a laugh.
This season was the culmination of everything Josi Borum had worked for her entire life on the volleyball court.
The team talent was obvious from the start; it had started to show flashes during the 2017 season that ended with a sectional semifinal loss to Limestone. But it was the drive and determination – and the laser-like focus – that proved to be the catalyst for a 41-1 season and an unprecedented run through the postseason.
And a lot of that is thanks to Sterling’s senior captain.
“Whenever you see a team make a run like we made and win state, they’re going to be able to point to one or two kids who drove them all season,” Dykeman said. “And every kid in our locker room would point to Josi. She was a coach and a captain on the floor, and she did a great job with what she needed to do.
“The leadership, the intangibles, that’s where it was for us,” he added. “She was a calming presence when we needed it, she was a kick in the butt when we needed it, she gave the girls everything that they needed, whether it was the motivation or the drive or the encouragement, she was able to do that, on the bench, on the floor.
Josi says this year’s run started in the waning moments of that loss to Limestone last year … and that same feeling she knew her older sister had felt to end her career in the sectional final back in 2015.
“That was a big loss for us,” Josi said of the 2017 finale. “We were a real young team last year, and I feel like that opened our eyes. We wanted to work harder in the offseason, just trying to get better. I think we pushed ourselves to the limit that we knew could helps us win a state championship.”
It worked. Sterling looked pretty much invincible all year, winning its first 30 matches, losing only to a Class 4A team (St. Charles North) at the Plainfield tournament in mid-October, and only playing to a third set four times all year (it won all four).
Then the postseason started; after a 25-21, 25-20 win over Dixon in the regional semifinal, the Warriors didn’t allow another team to score 20 points in a set until the two state tournament matches at Redbird Arena.
“We took every match as our last, and we didn’t want anything like last year to happen, where a loss would take us out of the run,” Josi said. “We were focused on every match, taking it on its own, and then playing at home in that supersectional, in front of that big, loud crowd, that’s one of the best memories I’ve had in this gym.
“All season, we just wanted to make it to state. Then once we got down there and beat Joliet Catholic in the first match, we thought, ‘OK, let’s just win it all.’”
While every Sterling fan in attendance at that final match, or even watching back at the high school, felt the same excitement and shared the elation that the volleyball team displayed in its post-match celebration, there was one in the stands who felt an even deeper connection.
Jay, who had been playing for Illinois-Springfield at the GLVC tournament in Springfield, Missouri, was able to get back and watch in person Saturday as her three younger sisters shared a huge hug at midcourt before hoisting the state championship trophy.
“I’m so happy for my sisters, so proud of them and happy they got to do it together,” Jay said. “I’m so jealous that I didn’t get to be a part of it, and I wish so much that I could’ve been playing with them. But I know I had my time to shine, and it’s theirs now – and they deserve it because they worked so hard for it.
“And especially for Josi, if she had graduated without it, she’d have the same feelings that I’m going through. So I’m just so proud, so happy that Josi did it her senior year.”
It’s no surprise that the drive to win a state championship mirrored Josi Borum’s drive to become a better player.
“My freshman year, I wanted to play, but they were a very good team, so I knew my chances were limited,” she said. “So I worked hard before my sophomore year, and kept pushing myself to get better. And as a senior, being able to play six rotations and do it all, kind of – hit, set, defense, everything – that’s just kind of what I was here for, and what I really wanted to do.”
Dykeman, for one, isn’t the least bit surprised at what Josi has accomplished.
“It wasn’t an accident,” he said. “When you see a kid who’s got the drive, it wasn’t too hard for me to envision that she could be great. The only thing that could limit Josi was her, and she took every opportunity that she could to get better, to learn and grow in the game, and it was through her sweat, determination and effort that she became the player that she is.”