Jonni Parker’s Versatility, Athleticism On Full Display For Penn State Volleyball
Jonni Parker arrived at Penn State as one of the nation’s top volleyball prospects, yet the freshman right side is already exceeding the loftiest of expectations.
Parker, who hails from Casstown, Ohio, was ranked the No. 14 overall recruit in the 2018 class, earning Gatorade State Player of the Year honors as a senior at Miami East High School. A spectacular play she made in her team’s state championship win went viral in the volleyball community.
Parker originally committed to her home-state Buckeyes, but later decided to reopen her recruitment, bringing Penn State into the picture. A visit to campus and a handful of conversations with head coach Russ Rose sealed the deal.
She currently leads the Nittany Lions in kills with 260 through the first 27 matches of the season. The 6-foot-1 Parker has started all of them and is firmly in the mix for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Parker is third on the team in service aces with 21 heading into Saturday’s senior night match against Northwestern at Rec Hall. Only Jenna Hampton and Bryanna Weiskircher have more than the former Under Armour All-American.
“Jonni’s played a lot of volleyball. She has a good awareness of the game and I think she’s very competitive,” Rose said. “She has a good sense of understanding where her skill set fits in. She’s certainly not an overpowering player, but she plays bigger than her size.”
A setter nearly her whole career, Parker has tremendous hands. She will routinely adjust to a ball in mid-air and leave the entire gym wondering how she possibly kept it off the ground.
Parker’s older sister, Paige, was a talented outside hitter who dreamed of one day playing for Penn State before attending the College of Wooster. Jonni, on the other hand, preferred being a softball catcher growing up.
It took some convincing from her sister, but Jonni eventually tried out for the Dayton Juniors when she was 11. She didn’t just make the team; she earned a spot on the 13U roster with the older girls. Later on in her club volleyball career, she and Kendall White joined forces for the Munciana Samurai in Yorktown, Indiana.
White, a junior libero for the Nittany Lions who earned All-American recognition last season, described her first impression of a 15-year-old Parker.
“The first impression I had of Jonni was that she was very quiet,” White said. “She’s definitely come out of her shell since then. She’s still quiet off the court, but now she’s very loud and boisterous on the court. I love her to death. I couldn’t say a bad thing about her.”
Hampton said Parker’s natural leadership has inspired her to be more vocal. Considering this year’s team features just six returning players from last season, plenty of freshmen have been thrust into important roles.
“Jonni’s a really good person and she’s a really good leader,” Hampton said. “I think she’s helped me build more confidence in being able to help others and be a leader as well.”
Nia Reed is one of only two Nittany Lions who own a national championship ring from 2014, but the redshirt senior outside hitter has no qualms about letting Parker set the tone.
“Me personally, I follow in Jonni’s footsteps,” Reed said. “I know it’s backwards but she always has a great night offensively.”
On top of her hitting prowess, Parker boasts one heck of a jump serve. Her front-row teammates shield the back of their heads when she steps to the line to avoid a potential concussion.
“Whenever Jonni goes up to serve [in practice], my arms turn purple,” Tori Gorrell said. “I definitely think it’s really impressive. It’s quite scary. Her serve is going to hit you in the face if you don’t get your hands there.”
Despite hailing from Ohio, Parker was well aware of Penn State volleyball’s tradition of excellence at a young age. In particular, she looked up to a pair of program greats who helped the Nittany Lions win their most recent national title.
“I’ve always admired Micha Hancock and Megan Courtney, just because they’re both all-around players,” she said.
Ever humble, Parker hates talking about her accomplishments. Instead, she often shifts the focus to her teammates and how they’ve helped her succeed whenever possible. But her rise to becoming one of the Big Ten’s best is even more impressive when you consider what she’s gone through to get here.
Parker was born with a rare condition that only allows her to hear about 40 percent in her left ear and 45 percent in her right. She’s worn hearing aids since age 4. It inspired her sister to study audiology so she could help others thrive like Jonni has.
“It’s allowed me to do different things,” Parker said. “It’s allowed me to be aware of the court in different ways that most people don’t understand or see.”
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