When Jill Stephens stepped onto campus at Florida Southern in 1991, she never thought it would be where her volleyball odyssey started and ended.

Brady Fredericksen @brady_fred

LAKELAND — When Jill Stephens stepped onto campus at Florida Southern in 1991, she never thought it would be where her volleyball odyssey started and ended.

Over the course of four seasons, Stephens grew into one of the top players in program history. She played in four NCAA tournaments, twice being named an All-American while setting a number of school records along the way.

Stephens graduated and began her coaching career as an assistant at Florida Atlantic before returning to Florida Southern to work under her mentor, Lois Webb.

When Webb retired in 2001, she tabbed Stephens as her replacement. It was an easy choice. She would lead the Mocs to the NCAA tournament 15 times over the next 17 years, winning 396 matches before reaching the national title match in 2017.

Stephens, 44, has retired from coaching after 23 years at Florida Southern.

“Florida Southern is so special to me,” said Stephens, who first came to Southern as a volleyball camper in the ninth grade. “It’s just been part of who I am; the Florida Southern way. I’m incredibly proud. It’s been ingrained in who I am.”

The Mocs fell short of their first national title in December, losing to Concordia-St. Paul in the NCAA championship match. It was a major moment in program history and it came 26 years after their last appearance at the NCAA National Championships.

Florida Southern athletic director Pete Meyer is very familiar with Stephens. Both were assistant and head coaches — Meyer in baseball and Stephens in volleyball — at the same time during the mid-2000s.

“Jill has been a fabulous role model for not only