CONCORD — Jenna Hostetler wore a bruise as eagerly as a smile on the volleyball court. That apparent contradiction — the pain and pleasure — defined the Garnet Valley senior’s play.
Hostetler chased down shots with abandon, sliding on her elbows and knees, enduring floor burns, bumps, and gashes just to keep points alive. In between games, she played the role of the clown. Hostetler would walk through the Jaguars’ huddle and squirt an unassuming teammate with water.
“just to break the ice a little bit,’ she said.
Her fellow Jags grew to love it.
“People got angry at me at first,’ Hostetler said. “I think they liked it towards the end. They would actually come over to me and be like ‘ Come on, I’m hot. Give me something.”
Hostetler’s enthusiasm, both for the sport and in-game pranks, galvanized Garnet Valley. Her position at libero required, in her words, “you know, a really loud mouth.’
“It fits me and everything I’m capable of,’ Hostetler said, “to be a leader on the court.’
There’s the word that jumps to mind when discussing Hostetler’s merits: Leadership. Leadership permeated everything she did for the Jaguars, from the bottle squirting to the screaming to the how-did-she-get-there digs.
Her influence on her teammates culminated in the Central League championship match. Down 5-0 in the decisive fifth game to Strath Haven, a team Garnet Valley dispatched the week prior, Jaguars’ coach Mark Clark called timeout. He rounded his girls together, but remained speechless — not by choice. Hostetler broke in before Clark could utter a word.
“Honestly, I don’t remember what I said because I was so riled up in that moment,’ she recalled, a wide grin spreading across her face. “I just remember thinking this can’t be happening right now. This is unreal. We worked so hard. There’s no way we can let this slip through our fingers, because we all want it. I know we were all exhausted because it was a two-and-a-half hour match and I just wanted to bring them aside and tell them, ‘ I believe in you. Mr. Clark believes in you. We believe in each other.”
Garnet Valley responded to take the game and the title.
Clark called it the best speech he’s ever heard and announced he would repeat it for years to come. The Jaguars carried the momentum through a postseason run that saw them clinch the school’s first PIAA Tournament berth since the 1990s.
“This year, going into it, we knew there was going to be something great, something awesome,’ Hostetler said.
She could have easily been speaking about herself, though she rarely does so. Hostetler’s defense (50 digs combined in the two Strath Haven matches) keyed Garnet Valley’s success. But it was her leadership, her infectious attitude, that set her apart. For that reason, Hostetler is the 2014 Daily Times Volleyball Player of the Year.
The distinction marks the second consecutive year that Hostetler earns a place on the All-Delco team. Joining her are Jaguars teammate Elise Cummings, Strath Haven’s duo of Bree Fisher and Rachel Vresilovic, Penncrest’s Diana Balta, Sun Valley’s Madison McCunney, and Archbishop Carroll’s Sarah Layfield. Layfield and McCunney are both returning to the All-Delco team, while Balta, Vresilovic, and Fisher represent the underclassmen in the group.
The All-Delco teams and the Player of the Year are selected by the Daily Times staff following consultation with county coaches.
Jenna Hostetler’s life in volleyball began as so many others did in youth sports—with the aid of a sibling. Hostetler’s older sister Lauren took up the game as a 10-year-old and insisted on using young Jenna as target practice to hone her offensive skills.
“(Lauren) brought me out on the front yard. She was an outside hitter, and she would hit balls at me,’ Hostetler said. “She enjoyed it because she was the older sister and I was too little to even understand what volleyball even was.’
Little did the younger Hostetler know that she’d turn that abuse into a genuine skill. She never sought out to play as a Libero. Instead, she too fancied herself an outside hitter. But at some point, athletes must give in to their own physical limitations.
“(Libero) is a position that I fell into when I realized I stopped growing. I used to be an outside hitter once upon a time,’ said Hostetler who stands a comparatively short 5-4. “When I stopped growing and everyone else reached 5-9 and above, I realized maybe I can’t jump so high anymore.’
Her time spent in the front yard helped Hostetler develop the techniques, often unorthodox, that made her such a formidable defensive player. Clark, whom Hostetler refers to exclusively as Mr. Clark, saw the talent before she did.
“Starting out, Mr. Clark believed in me from day one,’ Hostetler said. “You know he had me as a swing player on varsity (as a freshman). Although I didn’t see the potential in myself, he did all along. So it’s been nice to have him believing in me from Day 1.’
Both coach and player thrived in the relationship. Hostetler played both JV and varsity freshman, cheering on Lauren, now a junior at Moravian College, in the process.
By the time Hostetler matured into a team leader, Clark sought her advice nearly as much as she sought his.
“There’s definitely energy between us,’ Hostetler explained. “He’ll ask me, ‘ what do I need to do to make you guys better?’ or, ‘ what do I have to do during a game to get your heads in it?”
Together with Clark, the 17-year-old won three Central League titles in her four seasons. It was an unprecedented run in school history that culminated in a 3-0 loss to Parkland in the state tournament.
Now setting her eyes on volleyball at Division III Juniata College, the 17-year-old recounted the final moments of her stellar high school.
“A friend took a picture of me lying on the floor after my last game like, just lying there,’
Hostetler said. She’s smiling again. “So I have a picture of me, on the floor, where I always am. And I’ll have that.’
She may have been on the floor, but she was never down.