MORAGA, Calif. -- Having grown up in the family she did, it would be easy to label Jordan Shaw as a volleyball lifer.
After all, her biography reads like the very definition of a volleyball protege. Her father, Don, was the legendary Stanford coach who won four NCAA titles in his time as the women's coach and who went on to coach the Stanford men as well. Her mother, Carolyn, was equally involved in athletics and quite the athlete in her own right. And her brother, James, is carving out his own highly successful volleyball career at Stanford right now.
But that label doesn't nearly do Jordan Shaw justice. In reality, the 5-foot-11 senior from Woodside, Calif. is much, much more than her exploits on the court.
Of course, the story still has to begin with volleyball when it comes to the Saint Mary's senior. Family legend has it that Shaw attended her first match at three days old. In those youngest years, she served as the unofficial Stanford volleyball mascot, following her father to practices and matches whenever possible. She even infiltrated team film sessions, sitting and watching as the Cardinal prepared for matches.
"It wasn't like he was forcing me or dragging me along anywhere. I was just so curious and loved the game and loved the atmosphere that he had with his players,” Shaw said. “I loved just going and shagging balls for them at practice and watching film with them before matches even though I didn't understand it then. I just thought it was so cool to be a part of it."
When she was old enough to play organized sports, Shaw wasn't immediately pulled onto the court. Her parents encouraged her to play multiple sports, and whether it was softball, basketball or dance, Shaw showed the drive, athleticism and aptitude to succeed at all of them.
Eventually, volleyball won out. No surprise, given her background but still not a choice forced upon her. In fact, she wouldn't start playing club volleyball until the end of middle school. Instead of getting burned out by the sport at a young age, Shaw developed a desire for more.
"I don't think we made this big deal about it. We just didn’t talk about it or encourage it," said Carolyn Shaw. "With both with Jordan and James, we encouraged them to play lots of sports. ... We just didn’t want to overdo it. We were very big on letting them play as many sports as possible for as long as possible."
She enrolled at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View and began her career, lettering three years for the Lancers and earning All-West Catholic Athletic League honors all three years. At the same time, she began playing for the Vision Volleyball Club, and there earned three Junior Olympic All-Tournament nods.
For as accomplished as she was becoming, the decision to pick a college was becoming more and more complicated. The assumption was likely that she would end up at Stanford, continuing to ply the family trade at a school that felt like a second home.
The recruiting letters were landing in the mailbox with some frequency, but none of the schools that called were of particular interest. Eventually, she had contact with Gaels coach Rob Browning.
"We had our eye on her when she was a sophomore and just kept watching her," Browning said. "She got better and better and really showed how good she was and how good she was going to become late in her junior year. My assistant, Sam Crosson, called me from a tournament and said 'we need to get Jordan Shaw!' As usual, he was right."
After a visit to the Moraga campus, the decision was made. Shaw would set out to write her own story on the other side of San Francisco Bay.
"Coming here and creating my own identity separate from my family was important to me," Shaw said. "It wasn't like I was trying to escape it, because obviously it's not something to be ashamed of, but it was good for me to find my own goals and find my own path."
She played right away at Saint Mary's, starting 21 of the 23 matches she played in as a freshman. She put up respectable numbers, and over the summer went to Croatia with teammate Natalie Loos as part of the United States A2 Junior National Team that won gold at the 2011 European Global Challenge.
As she continued to work on her volleyball career, Shaw also worked to develop her life off the court. She weathered the trials and tribulations of being away from home for the first time, while at the same time attempting to balance the latter portion of the term student-athlete.
"She was thinking about majoring in Kinesiology but after the first year she figured out that wasn't for her," Carolyn Shaw said. "She looked at the art major and it really kind of perked her up. Since she's finally given herself permission to do that and be that, she's blossomed. She's always been creative. Whether it's on the computer or with a camera or drawing or painting, it's always come naturally for her."
Helping her along the way was her new family. Once part of a Stanford volleyball family that helped to raise her, Shaw now found herself a part of an equally strong -- and equally impactful -- volleyball community.
"A lot of other teams say they're so close and they have a family atmosphere but I really don't think anyone has the kind of environment that we do in the sense that it's always about how we can get better and get better together, both on and off the court," Jordan said. "It's not just about needing you to be a better volleyball player but how can you best serve your teammates by being a better person? Especially Rob. He's a really good example of that. He's always finding ways to make himself better and help us out in different ways. It rubs off on you."
Shaw earned All-West Coast Conference honors as a sophomore, finishing the season with nine double-doubles and an average of 3.37 kills per set. She led the Gaels in hitting percentage and entered her junior season as a preseason All-WCC selection.
By that junior season, Shaw had a few familiar faces to turn to on the court. Salinas, Calif. native and fellow junior Sarah Reams had been with Shaw at Saint Mary's the whole time, and the two knew each other from their days on opposing club teams. They were joined in 2012 by Shaw's old Vision teammate, Kristina Graven, who transferred from Cal Poly for her remaining two years of college play.
"I think it's pretty funny because Sarah, Kris and I have all known each other since the beginning of high school," Jordan said. "It's funny, being here now, we're completely different people and we never would've thought that we would be these three seniors together. We've become really close and it's crazy how things work out."
The season wrapped up in the NCAA Tournament with one of the more stirring victories in Saint Mary's history. A five-set comeback victory over San Diego State in the first round capped a season filled with growth both on and off the court.
"It was the most I've ever felt a team come together and fight and not give up because of how much we loved each other," Jordan said. "We weren't going to settle for ending it there because our seniors deserved more. That kind of sort of unselfish determination was awesome."
This year, Shaw has navigated her senior season in a much different role than in years past. She is no longer the underclassman tasked only with making plays, though she's still been called on to lead the way on the court.
Now, she serves also as a leader and a mentor, helping to shape the direction of future Gaels teams.
"As cheesy as it is, I just try to act like an older sister figure. I try to support them as much as possible," Shaw said. "When we were freshmen, we had some seniors that were really good about including us and showing us the ropes and everything. Our team is really close and everyone is really good about being there for everyone. I just try to create a positive example as much as possible, both in school and volleyball."
Added Browning: "Nothing makes me feel better than to see these young women thriving while they are here. Jordan is a great example of that, especially how she interacts with all of her teammates. On and off the court she is a leader and a big part of the team culture that we value so highly. It's so satisfying to see our seniors be the role models that you would hand pick for the younger members of the team."
Shaw admits that the not too distant future is a bit unnerving, but also shows great enthusiasm for the degree she plans to earn in Studio Art. Praised by Browning as exceptionally well-rounded with talents in singing, artwork and even paddleboarding, Shaw's development as a person has gone even further than her development on the court at Saint Mary's.
So, call Shaw a volleyball lifer if you'd like. She probably won't dispute it. What seems crystal clear now though is that she'll wrap up her Saint Mary's career with a few adjectives that fit even better.
Leader. Friend. Mentor. Gael.