When former Father Gabriel Richard volleyball superstar Jurnee Tipton undergoes knee surgery Dec. 29 while on Christmas break from Howard University, she will be looking at two options.
One would put a crimp on her offseason practice schedule as she prepares to return to the Bison volleyball program after completing her first season with the team Dec. 1.
The other might sit her down for six months, which could seriously affect preparations for her sophomore season at Howard, which begins next August.
Either way, however, Tipton has shown she’s ready to accept the challenge. She just wrapped up her first semester at the Division I university with a 3.67 grade-point average, and Howard volleyball coach Shaun Kupferberg said “you could see her getting more confident as the season went on.”
“Whatever happens with my knee, I’m ready for it,” she said. “I’ve been dealing with it, playing on it, for a while now, and I’m ready to get it resolved once and for all.”
Tipton first tore the meniscus cartilage in her left knee during her junior year at Father Gabriel Richard, but has used physical therapy to avoid surgery. But, she tore it further in August, has been playing on it ever since, and doctors have now told her surgery is the best option.
She will have the operation just before the New Year at the East Ann Arbor Surgery Center on the University of Michigan’s East Medical Campus. Doctors will either trim off part of the meniscus, which would result in a 6-8 week recuperation. If that isn’t possible, they will stitch together the damaged meniscus, which would result in up to six months of rehabilitation and recovery.
“Well, it’s pretty clear what I’m hoping happens,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed my first semester, and I don’t want to get slowed down too much.”
Nothing slowed down Tipton when the outside hitter led Father Gabriel Richard to an undefeated, Class B state-title season as a junior in high school, then followed that up with a senior season that saw her team go 26-6.
It’s no wonder she was named The Detroit News’ No. 4-ranked volleyball player in Michigan going into her senior season at FGR. She had 486 kills with a .358 hitting percentage in her junior year. As a senior, she was among the elite players in Michigan, ripping 506 kills along the way.
It’s been a bit of an adjustment period at Howard, as Tipton sought her role early in the season and became more confident as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Bison rolled forward. She was one of 10 freshmen on a team that finished 16-16 overall and 9-3 in the conference – including a 3-0, 3-0, 3-0 sweep in the MEAC championship tournament.
“I came into the season nervous, particularly early on,” said the three-time Michigan High School All-State selection. “There’s a big difference between high school volleyball and college volleyball. I was playing with adults, and I mean everybody is good.
“But I know toward the end of the season, I was starting to see where I fit in, started to feel that I could play at this level. I was passing better, hitting better.”
Kupferberg pointed to Tipton’s performance against nationally ranked Santa Clara, where she had 12 kills and hit at a .450 clip. Later, Kupferberg – who has led the Bison to three straight MEAC titles – was even more impressed.
“She played well in the MEAC Championships and against Penn State (in a first-round loss to the No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions),” Kupferberg said. “And that’s the goal, to keep improving.
“Some first-year players come right in and are fine. With Jurnee, it took some time, but once her time came and she got comfortable, we started seeing the kind of player she can be.”
The Penn State match may have been a loss for the Bison, but it provided a season highlight, both for the team and for Tipton. They managed to take a set from Penn State in the 3-1 defeat – the first time the Nittany Lions had lost a first-round set in the last 28 years of NCAA tournament play. The game also was televised, and Tipton played against two of her heroes.
“That’s when it all kind of hit me,” she said. “I never imagined I’d be playing on TV, against Penn State and Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington. It’s what I dreamed about. It was a very rewarding moment.”
So rewarding, in fact, that Tipton wanted to record it forever.
“I even took pictures with them (Lee and Washington),” she said. “Like I said, there have been a lot of thrills.”