A student-athlete on the Lawn: Jocelyn Willoughby excels on and off the court

The women’s basketball star has become an athletic and academic powerhouse

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Junior guard Jocelyn Willoughby has made her mark on the Virginia community. Andrew Walsh, The Cavalier Daily

Junior guard Jocelyn Willoughby was not only the leading scorer and rebounder for the Virginia women’s basketball team this season but also is a current resident of the Lawn and is active both on Grounds and with the NCAA.

As a student-athlete, Willoughby’s time is limited, especially during basketball season. She typically starts her days between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. and has class all morning and practice all afternoon. 

“Our schedules are pretty structured and rigid at this point because we’re in season, but at the same time they do kind of vary from day to day,” Willoughby said.

With that kind of a lifestyle, it would be very easy to concentrate on only school and basketball, as Willoughby did her first year at Virginia. However, entering her second year, she wanted to be more involved around Grounds and became a peer advisor through the Office of African-American Affairs.

“My transition from first to second year, I was really focused on branching out, trying to be involved and get more of a social life,” Willoughby said. “From that standpoint, being a peer advisor definitely helped me.”

In addition to being a peer advisor, she is also one of two student-athlete representatives on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee.

“It’s been a little bit more challenging to be as hands-on or involved as I would like to, but it’s also been a really interesting experience just to see how we have the legislation we have, how our game has evolved to be what it is, and also [have] conversations about where we’re going as a sport and how we’re going to grow,” Willoughby said of that experience.

Willoughby, a Global Development Studies major, is on track to complete her bachelor’s degree this spring. During Fall Convocation last semester, she received a certificate of Intermediate Honors for being in the top 20 percent of students in her class in the College, and she was named to the Academic All-District III Women’s Basketball Team — the first Cavalier since 1996 to do so. She was also named to the All-ACC Academic Team this year for the third time.

One of Willoughby’s favorite courses at Virginia was SOC 3410, “Race and Ethnic Relations.”

“It was really enlightening just thinking about how racism is largely structural even though as a culture we think about it as an individual, interpersonal thing,” Willoughby said.

Rose Buckelew, Willoughby’s professor in that course, remembered her fondly.

“[Willoughby] was confident in her analysis, but also willing to wrestle with different perspectives,” Buckelew said. “She is the sort of student that professors remember and recommend to each other.”

As a student in the final year of her undergraduate education, Willoughby was eligible to live on the Lawn in her third year at Virginia.

“At first, I was trying to figure out, ‘I’m a third-year, can I live on the Lawn next year or would it be the year after, so that was kind of stressful,” Willoughby said. “I just kind of went for it, and it turned out in my favor.”

As many Virginia students do, Willoughby discovered the Lawn rooms and their lack of modern amenities on her first visit to Charlottesville and was initially skeptical of the experience.

“I tell the story of orientation weekend … I was walking with my teammate Lisa [Jablonowski].” she said. “We were going past what now I know is West Range, and we were talking about the Lawn. At first, I was like no, it’s not something I want to do. I want my own privacy, and I wouldn’t want to go to the bathroom outside.”

Even though Willoughby has spent several months living on the Lawn by now, the bathroom situation has not become any better.

“Initially, it wasn’t that bad because the weather was fine,” she said. “It wasn’t super cold, it wasn’t raining all the time. Now it’s like, okay, I have to make that trek, even though it’s really not that far.” 

However, living on the Lawn has allowed Willoughby to experience Virginia traditions she never otherwise would have seen as a student-athlete.

“Lighting of the Lawn and Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn — these are things I haven’t been to in previous years,” Willoughby said. “It’s really cool being on the Lawn and experiencing [them].”

Unlike many of her fellow Lawn residents, Willoughby will be back in Charlottesville next year, earning a master’s degree in public policy from the Batten School while finishing her final season of eligibility for the Cavaliers.

Though she has enjoyed her time on the Lawn, Willoughby will not be making the move to the Range for her final year at Virginia, opting instead to live in an apartment off Grounds for the first time.

“I’ve lived on Grounds for all three years, so for next year I want to move off Grounds and experience 'adulting' —  what it’s like to pay your own rent, having to sign your own lease — and make that step to transition to the real world a little bit more,” Willoughby said.

As a student-athlete, Willoughby was not able to study abroad during her time at Virginia, which has helped drive her to want to play professionally overseas after graduation.

“It’s a different style of play, and it’s a different lifestyle obviously, so I would love … to do that,” Willoughby said.

During the Cavaliers’ Feb. 21 game against Louisville, Willoughby scored her 1000th career point for Virginia but could not fully enjoy the moment as the Cavaliers lost to the Cardinals after leading 28-25 at the half.

“You want to be happy and celebrate it, but we didn’t have the outcome that I wanted yesterday, so that was a little disappointing,” she said. “For me, I find comfort in the fact that we’re growing as a team. … For me to be able to put points on the board or get rebounds and do what’s necessary for my team to have success is more important to me.”

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