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Jonni Parker Shining As Penn State Women’s Volleyball ‘Go-To’ Star, Leader

As she entered her junior season, it was tough to imagine Jonni Parker surpassing the sky-high bar she’d already set for herself with Penn State women’s volleyball.

Following just her first two seasons, Parker is a two-time All-American and All-Big Ten honoree. Additionally, she became the 2018 Big Ten Freshman of the Year following a standout debut campaign to the tune of 351 kills, 203 digs, and 18 aces.

But most importantly, she’s now a leader in a locker room that desperately needs it. Without a true senior on Penn State’s roster, Parker has elevated her game once again by stepping into a more formal leadership role.

The Casstown, Ohio native notably works alongside the Nittany Lions’ youngest hitters, including Annie Cate Fitzpatrick, a freshman product who’s already turning heads thanks to strong guidance from teammates and coaches.

“She’s such a role model just because she has such a high IQ in volleyball. She really knows what she’s doing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s just really awesome to watch her play and see how she plays on the court, whether I’m on the court with her or if I’m on the sideline. Just watching how she plays. She just knows the court and knows what’s going on.”

While Parker leads the team with 109 kills on the season, Fitzpatrick is right behind her with 69 of her own. Although Fitzpatrick has much room to grow and overcome her smaller size, Parker’s already touting her obvious raw talent.

“Coming in as a freshman, I thought she did well on the floor and showed what she could do well,” junior right side Jonni Parker said following Penn State’s opening match. “She mixed it up with her shots on the floor, stayed aggressive with her swings, and was all over the place in the back row trying to make some plays. I was really proud of what she did tonight.”

Parker serves as one of Penn State’s captains this season alongside setter Gabby Blossom. So far, she’s embraced the role as an opportunity to drive her teammates and help them grow.

“A lot of people say I’m like a mother figure, but at the same time, I want to be able to push you to be better — the best you can be — on and off the court,” Parker said. “I want to make sure that they can come to me if they ever have anything they need to talk about. I feel like, right now, my job is to help calm people down, settle them, but give them the confidence and what they need to be on the floor.”

Statistically, Parker is stuffing the stat sheets. She’s currently the lone Nittany Lion averaging more than three kills per set (3.53) and is tied for the team lead with eight service aces. Additionally, she’s hitting .241 on the season — a very respectable mark for someone who’s taken nearly 300 swings so far.

Parker was key in Penn State’s two-match sweep over Indiana last weekend. She put up 18 and 17 kills in the matches, respectively, and led Penn State’s offense to what were likely its first comfortable victories of the season.

“You don’t see a lot of powerful undersized hitters in the Big Ten, but she plays like she’s 6’5″. She’s got a lot of energy, she’s got a lot of shots,” middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord said. “She’s a veteran player and I say it all the time — she’s got one heck of an IQ. Jonni’s just a well-rounded, good-at-everything kind of player.”

Moving forward, Parker will need to continue steering the ship as Penn State sails further into a grueling Big Ten schedule that offers few opportunities for rest. Fortunately, head coach Russ Rose knows she’s got what it takes.

“Jonni is clearly our go-to player,” Rose said. “I thought she had a tough match in Ohio. I think going home puts a little added pressure on her and maybe she didn’t perform as well as she liked, but I thought she bounced back really well tonight and was clearly, in my mind, the top player on the floor. We’re accustomed to that.”

No. 10 Penn State (4-3) will return to action on Saturday, February 27, when it heads south to take on Maryland. First serve in College Park is set for 5 p.m. on BTN+.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt is a junior majoring in journalism and Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football aficionado, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza. He loves Seinfeld, is really into video games, and would wipe the floor with you in Halo. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ for bad sports takes or email him at [email protected]

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