Volleyball Player of the Year: Westminster’s Widener still growing in her sport

Pat Stoetzer
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times
Westminster's Jilienne Widener is the Times Player of the Year

Jilienne Widener started playing volleyball seven years ago with the Carroll Viper Volleyball Club, where she honed skills that would one day help her become a standout at the high school level.

Just not the skills she had in mind back then.

The diminutive youngster became a setter and learned the nuances of the position. She gained experience playing club. A few years later, something changed.

Widener noticed her arms and legs getting longer. It was a growth spurt, some six inches when she was in middle school.

So long, setter — Widener became an outside hitter. And a pretty darn good one.

"I really knew that's what I wanted to do, that's what I wanted to continue to do," Widener said. "Once I had more experience with it, it became easier and easier."

Things seemed easy this fall for Widener, who used her 6-foot stature to command the net for Westminster's varsity team. The freshman averaged nearly five kills and three digs per set for the Owls, leading them to their best record in 13 years.

The Times Volleyball Player of the Year made herself known in her first high school season.

Widener totaled 292 kills, nearly 80 more than the next highest total, and averaged 4.9 per set. She racked up 169 kills in nine matches against county foes, reaching 25 or more three times.

She led the county in kills and kills per set, and added 174 digs (2.9). Westminster went 11-4 (5-1 in official county matches) and finished second in the Carroll standings.

Impressive numbers for a first-year varsity player who admits to battling her nerves throughout the season.

"I get intimidated very easily, it's just how it was," Widener said. "But [my teammates] were always there, they always had my back. They kept me calm. They didn't treat me like a freshman. They treated me like anybody else on the team. I didn't want to be babied."

Widener recently switched club teams, going from CVVC to Metro Volleyball Club based out of Washington. The level of play increased, Widener said, but she was eager for the challenge.

Starting out as a setter helped Widener understand what types of passes to ask for when she became a hitter, she said. So when Owls varsity practice began in August, Widener and sophomore setter Emily Bartlett became fast friends. Widener hadn't played much over the summer, she said, and after a few practices it showed.

"But there was one practice in preseason where [Bartlett] and I were just really on," Widener said. "She was setting perfect tempo balls ... I was in rhythm, every time. And that's when I realized, this is going to be a good season for me. I have a great setter, and everything is just going to go how I want it to go."

Bartlett finished the fall with 541 assists and 9.0 per set, both tops in the county.

Widener wasn't a surprise to Owls coach Ed Benish, who watched her play for CVVC and coached her older sister Camryn, who is a senior. His Eureka moment came in Westminster's season opener against Tuscarora.

The Titans swept the Owls in last year's match (Westminster went 8-8), but Widener established a presence in the most recent meeting. She posted 20 kills and served the final two points of the fourth set in a 3-1 victory.

Their season ended in the Class 3A West Section 1 quarterfinals with a 3-2 loss to Urbana, but Widener kept the Owls in the match with 27 kills and 16 digs.

"We kind of knew what was coming into the season," Benish said about Widener's talent. "It was more so refining what was already there. She's really mature for a player. What's better, she wanted to come in and help the program. She was all about the team, and you really have to be in a sport like volleyball."

Growth as a hitter is Widener's main objective, so by next season expect her to tinker with her technique through club ball and private workouts. Widener said she and Bartlett will get together to further their communication bond.

Westminster carried only four seniors on its roster this fall, and Benish said he's already excited to see what next year brings. Widener may or may not be done growing in height, but her experience will continue to grow.

"I thought our first season went very well," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without my teammates. They really kept me calm on the court, and they came to practice every day willing to learn and improve their skills which pushed me to be better. And they were really good role models for me, and that's what I needed.

"I thought I delivered pretty well."

pat.stoetzer@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7894

twitter.com/carrollvarsity

All-County Volleyball

FIRST TEAM

Position Name School Year

Libero Josey Klingenberg Man Valley Sophomore

Libero Sarah Riggin Century Senior

Libero Jess Marquis Liberty Senior

Setter Emily Bartlett Westminster Sophomore

Setter Jayce Klingenberg Man Valley Senior

Hitter Melissa Bonzelet Century Junior

Hitter Lydia Leiner Liberty Sophomore

Hitter Alli York Man Valley Senior

Hitter Jilienne Widener Westminster Freshman

SECOND TEAM

Century: Lindsay Robert. Carroll Christian: Hannah Nelson. FCA Bravehearts: Natalie Marsch, Maddie Myers. Francis Scott Key: Riley Bittner. Liberty: Ali Whitworth. Man Valley: Lindsay Seipp, Emily Veach. Westminster: Sarah O'Donnell. Winters Mill: Jess Bollinger.

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