Utah State volleyball: Former walk-on develops into team leader
Logan • It's easy to stick out in a town of 50 people.
That was Paige Neves, a three-sport star at Burlington High in Otto, Wyo. At 5-foot-9, she was the tallest on her volleyball, basketball and track teams. She was the proverbial big fish, an athletic standout who her neighbors knew would go far.
It was hard to keep that same confidence as she realized she was one of the smaller players as a walk-on freshman at Utah State.
"It was a huge eye-opener for me to come in with these high-level athletes," Neves said. "But I was going to work my way to that level."
Neves is well on her way to stacking up with Aggie volleyball greats three years later. She's one of the team's leaders as a junior after an all-conference season. From redshirt walk-on to indispensable competitor, Neves even has surpassed some of her own expectations.
And with sister Taubi Neves, a former Utah State player, on staff, she's had at least one friend she's always been able to rely on.
"She has multiple roles in my life: a coach, a sister," Paige said. "Sometimes she's my mom, taking care of me."
The Neves family hails from a Wyoming ranch, and Paige and Taubi were among nine children. They woke up early to irrigate the farm, where they grew beans, hay and grain, drive tractors, feed cows and do other chores that are familiar to ranching families.
Coach Grayson DuBose said he sees the fruits of that work ethic paying off in Paige's game. She had to learn how to be a setter during her redshirt year and developed so quickly that she merited starts as a freshman.
"She just got better and better," he said. "Whatever team she was on in practice would win the drill or win the scrimmage. We had to play her eventually."
That has translated so far to winning for Utah State, which won the WAC regular-season title last year. In their first Mountain West season, the Aggies are 8-4 and most recently won two matches against Boise State in which Paige piled up 76 assists.
Paige said she always wanted to attend Utah State, scholarship or not. Taubi was the one who told her sister she could succeed if she brought the right attitude.
"Basically I said if she worked hard, she could do it," Taubi said. "She had to earn anything she got. And she was always pretty confident she could get there."
DuBose does keep a level of separation between the siblings: Taubi doesn't work directly or individually with Paige to avoid the appearance of favoritism. And DuBose said there isn't any. Taubi is as tough on Paige as any player in practices.
When the women go home, however, it's a different story. They live together, go out to country swing dances together, even spend a few quiet nights together. They're family, and family is good to have around when you come from a small town.
"It's been great to have her around," Paige said. "It's just the two of us, and we get along just great."
The Neves tradition at Utah State
Three Neves women, all from the same family in Wyoming, have played volleyball at Utah State.
Chelsi Neves • No. 4 all-time in assists with 2,809, two of USU's top three top assist seasons
Taubi Neves • Set single season then-record of 362 digs in 2003, coach at USU since 2007
Paige Neves •Â Third-year starter, No. 6 all-time in assists with 2,367