Jenna Sonnenberg can’t help but smile and shake her head a little in disbelief when she thinks about how far she has come.
And what still awaits her.
Sonnenberg, a member of the Niagara Wheatfield Lady Falcons volleyball team, is in the home stretch of a varsity career that began in eighth grade.
“I think I was an immature player as an eighth grader. Not as strong. I started setting, I couldn’t really push the ball,” Sonnenberg said with a smile.
“But I had my sister on the team; she was there to kind of help me along. As the years went on I was by myself so I was kind of forced to learn it on my own.”
Sonnenberg has without question learned her lessons well as she was a big reason the Falcons reached the Section VI Class AA title game last year and why they are in contention for a return trip.
Jenna said that having her sister by her side to guide her those first two years of varsity were vital to her growth as a player. Come sophomore season, Jenna got her chance to spread her wings as a leader.
“I actually was given the opportunity to be a captain when I was in 10th grade,” said Sonnenberg. “So that gave me the opportunity to step up as a leader and see how it is stepping into that role because I had always been the baby of the team. Other people and my sister telling me what to do. Now I got to be put in that position and kind of help everyone else out. It was different for me, but I love it. I love the change in role.”
Sharing the role of captain with Mackenzie Franks, Danielle Brochey and Katie Kostiw; Sonnenberg feels that each captain brings a unique characteristic that helps the team blend into the successful unit that is currently in first place in the NFL.
“I try and bring a lot of intensity and it’s sounds kind of contradicting, but I try to bring calmness some times,” she said. “Some times a game can get really tense when it gets really close and I try to get everyone to relax. But stay really intense and really high energy all the time.”
Opponents definitely take notice of Sonnenberg’s skill as she is one of, if not the best, liberos in WNY.
Kenmore West coach Brittany Lis said what makes Sonnenberg so tough is her combination of athletic ability and volleyball know how.
“She anticipates everything,” said Lis. “She’s always thinking two steps ahead and she’s a true leader on the court. She leads by example. Everything she does is so calm and controlled and focused on what she needs to do. She’s always thinking about the next play.”
Wheatfield coach Brandi Cochran quipped that Jenna on a bad day is better than most players on a good day. At the root of that comment was Cochran’s belief that one of Sonnenberg’s most valuable traits is her consistency.
“I knew Jenna was special when I saw her in fourth grade,” said Cochran. “She started as a setter and that was the role that, at that time, was okay for her, but I knew she was always going to be our defensive powerhouse. To say that we’re gonna miss her is an understatement. All my girls do an amazing job, but she controls that back row. In matches where we are being tested we can always count on Jenna to get that dig.”
Always looking for new challenges, Sonnenberg began boxing this past summer.
“Oh my God. I love it! Sonnenberg said as her face lit up.
“I started in June and I absolutely love it.”
Embracing her new love, Sonnenberg, who trains with Joe Skubis at Goomba’s Boxing in the City of Tonawanda, said not only has boxing raised her fitness level to an all new high, the discipline she has learned in the ring has translated to her being a better leader on the court.
“Boxing is very disciplined. You have to eat right. You have to drink enough before you get there or you’re in trouble, because you’re gonna be so tired when you get there,” Sonnenberg said. “You learn to keep your hands up. If your hands aren’t up you’re getting slapped in the face. That’s how I was trained. So when I come here I say ok I have to make sure I hit (the ball) in the right spot. I try to make sure everything I do is disciplined and correct. Don’t do anything halfway.”
Sonnenberg has also grown into a role where she helps others who train at Goomba’s reach their specific conditioning goals which has allowed Jenna to step outside the comfort zone of her team and be in that leadership role in a different manner.
“Getting the opportunity to push the fighters helps me push my teammates,” said Sonnenberg.
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