In your head, picture a prototypical female volleyball player.
No matter what image just mind conjured, it was assuredly not the image of Jenna Wilson.
Jenna grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, California – not exactly known as a hotbed of young volleyball talent.
“Normally, you don’t find many volleyball players in Rancho Cucamonga, said Wilson. “If you wanted to find volleyball players, you would go to a beach area like Orange County.”
Despite making the first team for the All-Baseline League and All-Inland Valley teams at Rancho Cucamonga High, Jenna was still not regarded as can’t-miss prospect.
“I wasn’t on a top team or one of the top recruits going into college. It was kind of a huge blessing that Kathy and the coaching staff found me underneath it all.”
Not playing at a coastal Orange County school and club team may have hurt her chances, but her tenacious work ethic kept her in the game.
Jenna herself wasn’t even sure she would be a volleyball player. Growing up, she played both volleyball and basketball. Her mother, Fonda, was a basketball coach and instilled a love for the game in her from an early age.
“Growing up, basketball was my main focus and my main sport. I played volleyball too, but it was just a fun thing to do on the side,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I decided to just solely play volleyball.”
To this day, Jenna is still assumed to be a basketball player due to her height and race.
“Every time I walk around school in UCSB gear, when people see me they ask ‘do you play basketball?’ I always surprise them when I say ‘No, I play volleyball.”
Getting to UCSB in the first place was hard enough, but Jenna found a new set of challenges once she arrived on campus.
“When I first got to UCSB, I had a pretty shaky academic fall quarter,” said Wilson. “It was a big transition to play at this level and have tough classes. I didn’t do so well and my grades showed it.”
For a two-time Scholar Athlete in high school, this was new territory. However, Wilson doesn’t regret the rough start.
“I think it was a good wake-up call because I learned from that and it motivated me to try hard and to study really hard every quarter after,” said a reflectful Wilson. “My GPA has increased every quarter since then.”
Since that first quarter, Jenna has hit her stride in the classroom and on the court. Alongside her aforementioned academic improvements, Jenna has become a leader on the floor. She led the Gauchos in blocks in 2011 at 0.99 blocks per game, and again leads the squad this season at 1.15 blocks per game.
As a third year player – with promising freshman middle blocker Britton Taylor a lineup regular - Jenna has had a new role thrust upon her: mentor.
“Being a junior on this team, it’s been nice to take a new approach. We have a lot of younger players that are also middles. It’s been nice to help them out or just to give them tips on what to do or how to block this ball.”
Jenna’s dual success in academics and athletics is emblematic of everything it means to be a Gaucho. So what motivates Jenna to be such a Great Example?
Faith and family.
“I’m a Christian and my faith is the most important thing to me,” said Wilson. “I know that my height and athletic abilities are all gifts from God. It’s my job to use all that to glorify Him and that’s what really motivates me to play well everyday.”
“My family is a huge part of my life as well,” Jenna continued. “I have always had their love and support growing up over the years and that’s what really helped me to pursue sports.”
“My siblings are my best friends,” said a smiling Wilson. “Being so close made me want to be a good example to them- how to balance sports and school and be able to incorporate success into both areas.”