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Jenna Hampton Primed To Be Penn State Women’s Volleyball’s Libero Of The Future

When Jenna Hampton began her Penn State women’s volleyball career last year, she arrived in Happy Valley alongside the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class featuring stars like Jonni Parker, Serena Gray, and Kaitlyn Hord.

The group has quickly blossomed into one of the top young cores in all of college volleyball, and Parker, Gray, and Hord have each developed into household names. There’s certainly no sophomore slump in sight for these players who helped power the Nittany Lions to a 16-3 record and seven-match winning streak.

Hampton, however, has primarily contributed off the bench since joining the team while standout senior Kendall White currently occupies the role of starting libero.

Now, as White nears the end of her final season, Hampton is prepared to step up and become the Nittany Lions’ next libero thanks to working closely alongside her senior mentor both on and off the court.

“Kendall’s awesome,” Hampton said back in 2018. “She talks to me all the time, which I love. Since we play the same position and she has more experience, she knows what to tell me. It’s been really fun playing with her. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s a really good player-coach in a way.”

If there’s a player to model a career after, it’s White. On top of being named 2018 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and an AVCA first-team All-American, White is just 170 digs shy of becoming Penn State’s all-time digs leader. She’s also racked up 306 assists and 69 service aces in her four-year career.

“I’ve learned so much from Kendall,” Hampton said. “She’s just so aggressive and very confident. I think that’s what’s really good about her…She helps me a lot even when she reads something that I didn’t see.

“She’ll tell me, even if the ball didn’t come to me, ‘Hey, you weren’t in the right spot.’ There’s just so much you can learn from her — even just [by] watching her.”

White’s leadership has likely been a driving force behind Hampton’s impressive off-the-bench numbers. She ranks fourth on the team with 90 digs — averaging 1.43 per set — and has contributed 10 assists through the first half of the season.

One aspect of Hampton’s game that hasn’t been seen this season is her strong presence on the serving line. In her freshman campaign, Hampton tallied 27 aces — just two shy of Bryanna Weiskircher, who recorded a team-high 29. This season, Hampton has yet to record a service ace.

When playing a back-court role, it’s especially important to be open to diving for a ball and getting low to keep a volley alive and, most importantly, prevent an opposing team from scoring. Thankfully, Hampton is no stranger to showing that kind of grit whenever she steps onto the court.

“I think [putting her body on the line for her teammates] just describes Jenna in every aspect and the type of player she is,” outside hitter Jonni Parker said. “She’s a hard worker. She’s gonna do that for her teammates. I think she did pretty well this game, but our effort — that’s what we need from everybody every single point of every match, so I think for her to show that is a lot.”

Hampton’s tough-as-nails attitude is perhaps why she’s played in more sets than any player outside of the starting seven. The sophomore defensive specialist has appeared on the court in 63 of the Nittany Lions’ 66 sets and 18 of their 19 matches so far this season.

Hampton is also a beloved personality in Penn State’s locker room, especially with setter Gabby Blossom. The pair have become great friends since they arrived at Penn State together last year.

“She’s a back-row kid and she does what really good back-row kids do really well,” Blossom said. “She’s a great asset. She brings a great energy to the court when she’s on it and at practice. She’s everything you want in a back-row kid. Off the court, she’s one of my best friends. We have a lot of fun together.”

Just like redshirt senior Tori Gorrell, Hampton was able to sharpen her skills overseas throughout the offseason and better prepare for the coming season. Gorrell traveled to Europe a few years back, while Hampton traveled to Japan with a select group of Big Ten players this past June.

“[Playing in Japan] was really fun,” Hampton said. “The game is a lot different there. It was cool to play with other girls from different teams. It was weird how close we all were, too. We kind of just got together and clicked instantly. It was a really good group of girls and we had a really good experience with really good competition. It surprised me how good it was there.”

Hampton, a current protégé and soon-to-be-mentor, will slowly begin transitioning into a leadership role in the coming months regarding Penn State’s crop of young defensive specialists. She had great things to say from Macall Peed and Molly Russell’s rookie debuts, which came earlier this season against Hofstra and Holy Cross, respectively.

“[Their debuts went] really well,” Hampton said. “I think they weren’t nervous when they went in there. They went in there and did their job. They served the ball in, they played defense. I think they did a really good job. I don’t think they had any jitters or anything, so it was good to see that.”

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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