Jilienne Widener used to take part in varsity volleyball practice at Westminster when she was a middle school student spending time as the team’s student manager.
The Owls tossed Widener into their sessions, she recalled, as a way to scout an opponent. She experienced a solid growth spurt in high school, but even then Widener served as a stand-in so Westminster had a chance to figure out matchups and put together game plans.
“I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I love pushing the other players to be better,’” Widener said. “I got the opportunity to do that every day this year.”
Her managerial skills soon turned into on-court talent, and Widener became one of the most feared outside hitters in the region. She backed up three consecutive Times Player of the Year honors with another one this fall — Widener led Westminster to an undefeated regular season, an outright Carroll County Athletic League title, and a spot in the Class 3A state semifinals.
The Owls went 14-0 before the postseason and dropped a mere two sets in the process. They rolled past three playoff teams to get to University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum and the state semis for a second year in a row. Northern (Calvert County) was this year’s nemesis, though, and Westminster fell in four sets.
She finished the fall with 336 kills (5.8 per set), the most in Carroll County, and crafted a .465 hitting percentage. Widener added 129 digs (2.2 per set), 59 aces, and 21 blocks.
“She is the most dominant player I’ve ever seen,” Owls first-year coach Evan Frock said earlier this year. “And it’s not just her hitting, but also her serve receive, her passing, her setting, her blocking, her serving — it’s a complete game.”
Widener’s 1,311 career kills are believed to be the most in county history. She reached 1,000 on Sept. 12 against Manchester Valley, but the 6-footer said she didn’t lose sight of this year’s goal despite the individual milestone.
“We wanted to prove ourselves after last year,” Widener said. “Having to split counties [with Winters Mill], we were like, ‘This is our year. We’re going to come out and we’re going to show out.' That’s what we wanted to do. And I think we accomplished that.”
Getting some high school exposure at a younger age helped Widener become a better all-around player, she said. But it doesn’t take much to discover her strength once a match begins.
Hitting the ball. Hard. And with impressive accuracy.
Widener hammered out 27 kills in Westminster’s 3-0 win over Mount Hebron in the 3A East Region final, and went for 27 more in the Owls’ sweep against Reservoir in the state quarterfinals. A left knee injury during practice a few days before the semifinals affected Widener down the stretch against Northern, but she still posted 16 kills to lead the team.
“She’s just a great teammate,” Owls senior libero Kasey Thomas said earlier in the season. “She definitely pushes everybody the hardest in every front because it’s just kill, kill, kill, and that makes you dig better, makes you block better, makes you set better all because of her. It’s just everything.”
Widener said practicing against Westminster’s talented front row — Ella Keck, Mikayla Reed, Emily Riesner, and Cassi Shields — helped her game improve throughout the fall.
High school volleyball is finished, but Widener still competes on the club scene as a member of Metro Volleyball Club of DC’s 18 Travel team. Metro is ranked online as one among the top 20 clubs in the nation.
Soon she’ll getting ready for her college career at Brown University. Widener said she’s eager to enter as a freshman and make a name for herself in the Ivy League, just like she did four years ago at Westminster.