By Lincoln Arneal
Rainelle Jones’s heart stopped for a few beats.
She was kneeling silently moments before the national anthem. Then, a few moments before the singer began, several fans shouted disparaging comments toward the Maryland middle blocker.
This was the moment Jones had been preparing for but also dreading. Teammate Laila Ricks also joined Jones and Maddie Naumann in taking a knee.
“I was shocked because it was finally happening,” Jones said. “I was expecting it. I was preparing for it. But I kind of let my guard down a little bit at those games… We were all, I guess, just not really prepared for that kind of experience.”
As Jones and the Terrapins return to the Devaney Center Saturday to take on No. 1 Nebraska at 7:30 p.m., she reflected on the incident from last season, saying it has strengthened her desire to fight for social justice.
The idea of kneeling during the national anthem came to Jones during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the nation was dealing with the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Jones wanted to do more to raise awareness of social justice and was inspired by the actions of Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
After a discussion with her teammates, she began taking a knee during the spring 2021 season, when arenas were empty and continued as more teammates joined her.
The outburst also impacted the Huskers as NU coach John Cook said they were emotional in the early part of the match. On the other side, Jones said the Terrapin huddle before the match was quiet and uncomfortable. She encouraged them to shake off the incident and focus on the match.
“I knew what I had to do as a leader as a player,” Jones said. “I wanted to make it clear that let’s play the game first and then worry about it later because that’s what we’re here to do. We’ll deal with the consequences or with the issues later after the match.”
After the Husker sweep, Lauren Stivrins talked with Jones across the net and apologized for the fans’ actions and expressed the Huskers’ support for her. Jones also sent out a tweet with a statement clarifying why she takes a knee. The following day, athletic director Trev Alberts and NU chancellor Ronnie Green, who was in attendance at the match, issued statements saying they were disappointed by the harassment.
The incident strengthened Jones’s resolve and highlighted her need to continue to fight for social justice causes. Off the court, Jones graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and is continuing her master’s degree in the same program.
She’s also been active with the Big Ten and traveled with other student-athletes to Selma, Ala., to study civil rights history. Jones called the experience powerful but one that also left her feeling angry.
“Even though there are museums and shrines of many social injustices and inequality over the course of history, I know that it’s still very relevant,” she said. “Seeing images that were painted in the 1940s and still seeing the same images on social media is very awakening. It does make me angry because I know that we have so much work to do, but it’s a matter of how much work we can get done in a matter of time.”
Jones continues her strong play on the court. After leading the nation in blocking a year ago, she again anchors Maryland’s nation-best net defense with 1.67 blocks per set.
After her final season as a Terrapin, Jones said she hopes to play professionally, but she also wants to continue to work on social justice issues. She’s worked with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and used her voice to raise issues and use her platform to advocate for the voiceless.
For now, Jones continues to take a knee and write BLM (Black Lives Matter) on her taped wrists. She has not received any other public pushback than the one incident. However, the moment a year ago was a wake-up call for her that a lot of work needs to be done to move toward social justice.
“It really shows that a lot of us in America are still fighting with their own ignorance and fighting with their own daily issues on what their problem is when it comes to social equality and not really understanding or keeping a closed mind when it comes to what is your reasoning or why are you fighting for this instead of trying to learn more about it and understand from other people’s perspectives,” she said.
HUSKERS RESPOND — After suffering a sweep against No. 5 Wisconsin on Wednesday, Cook said he was encouraged with how the players responded in practice on Thursday.
One of the focuses was on serve receive and passing. Wisconsin recorded six aces, the most by an NU opponent this season, and stressed the Huskers at other times, forcing them to play out-of-system.
“We got punched in the mouth, and we weren’t as good as we think we are,” Cook said. “So we got work to do.”
BANWARTH OUT AT OLE MISS — Ole Miss officially parted ways with former Nebraska player and assistant coach Kayla Banwarth after she was suspended last week. The decision was mutually agreed upon according to a release by the school.
After going 1-19 during her first season, Banwarth guided the Rebels to a 21-9 record and an NCAA tournament berth last year. This season, Ole Miss was 7-10, including a loss at Nebraska.
Assistant coach Bre Henry, a graduate manager at NU, will serve as acting head coach for the remainder of the season.
“I thank (athletic director) Keith Carter and (deputy athletics director) Lynnette Johnson for the opportunity to coach at Ole Miss,” Banwarth said in a statement. “I am grateful to the student-athletes for allowing me to be a part of their volleyball careers. Coaching volleyball is my greatest passion. I will continue to pursue that passion when the right opportunity arises. I am excited to see what the next chapter has in store for me and my family.”