| March 20, 2018

Volleyball: Driven by Humility

May 5, 2016

Motivated and passionate are adjectives that describe former Idaho volleyball standout Jenna Ellis and her path to Moscow.

The former Vandal defensive specialist spent her post-volleyball life focusing on her career in notations, but said she has not forgotten about the sport that brought her to where she is now.

“There’s been a lot of aspects about just being at the university and in Moscow that I’ve pretty much fallen in love with,” Ellis said.

Ellis said her journey to Idaho was part of God’s plan for her life.

“The people that came into my life and my experiences here are because of him,” Ellis said. “That’s what has shaped me the person I am today.”

The transition from Century High School in Pocatello to Moscow was initially rough for Ellis. She said encouragement helped her get through the initial bumpy road.

“In life there’s just ups and downs,” Ellis said. “I got through it with my family telling me that I could do it and stick it out. My coaches and teammates were encouraging me – and finding out my identity wasn’t about how good or bad I did on the court.”

Ellis played all four years for the Vandal volleyball team and established herself as one of the top defensive specialists in program history. She said the journey has not always been easy, as a shoulder injury nearly turned her away from the sport she played since the third grade.

“It made me fear certain aspects of the game,” she said. “But it was a minor thing, because I was able to get through it thanks to the support system I had.”

Ellis took her career one season at a time and continued to grow as a competitor in the process.

The defensive specialist began to accumulate numerous career milestones during her senior season, as she became the program’s all-time leader in digs Oct. 15 after passing Meghan Brown’s record of 1,420 digs.

During her Senior Night, Ellis became the first Vandal to surpass 1,500 career digs with a strong performance against Eastern Washington.

After her final game against Idaho State in November, she ended her career with 1,571 digs.

Ellis said she credits her team for helping her out to reach the career milestone.

“The accomplishment of achieving that many digs was really a team effort,” Ellis said. “I had coaches that believed in me and put me out on the floor. To get that many digs, you have to be out there.”

The excitement of the accomplishment came with the team’s late-season charge. The Vandals won the North Division of the Big Sky Conference after positing a +1.25 scoring differential against Northern Colorado as a tiebreaker.

Ellis played her final game for Idaho in the conference semifinal matchup against Idaho State. The Vandals fell to the Bengals 3-1 (23-25, 16-25, 26-24, 19-25) and ended the season 14-16 overall.

Ellis earned 23 digs and three assists in the competition. She said the emotions of playing her last game sunk in after Idaho State scored its last kill.

“It hurt,” Ellis said. “It hit me hard right when it happened because I realized, ‘Wow this was my last game ever as a Vandal.’ I felt like I left it all out on the floor and I would’ve been the happiest with my performance if we would’ve gotten the win.”

Despite the loss, Ellis said she was happy with the team’s performance and enjoyed the experience of her last collegiate appearance.

“I’m happy with how I left because I set a new standard for someone else to come in and beat my record,” Ellis said.

Yet, her honors are not strictly confined to the court.

Ellis has achieved academic success since arriving on campus four years ago. She was the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Vandal Scholarship Fund. Ellis said it allowed her to continue her education in Idaho.

“I would say the scholarships is what made college and playing volleyball possible for me,” Ellis said. “I’m still using the scholarship to finish the school year. I have duties and responsibilities and I want to hold the honor of that scholarship and finish my work thoroughly.”

Ellis said her post-volleyball career was a surprising change after the team’s season ended in the fall.

“As soon as volleyball was over, I definitely took the time to have a break and took a couple of months off from playing volleyball,” Ellis said. “Then I started to miss it. I miss the team aspect and the girls, the practices — everything.”

The former defensive specialist graduated with an undergraduate degree in nutrition, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in family and consumer science with an emphasis on nutrition.

Aspiring nutritionists are part of the coordinated dietetics program that steers students toward taking the national dietitian registration exam. Ellis said she is hoping to earn a master’s degree and then take the national exam to earn her credentials.

“I’m really passionate about nutrition and how it can influence everyone’s life,” Ellis said. “Anyone from an athlete to a young child. There’s many ways you can go with a career in nutrition.”

Ellis said she plans to work for a university as a professor or a dietitian for college athletes.

“I didn’t realize nutrition can be a career path until I came to the university,” Ellis said. “I met a professor that really inspired me to go forward with that and showed me there was multiple opportunities to pursue within nutrition.”

Ellis said Assistant Professor Samantha Ramsay, Assistant Professor Katie Brown and Senior Instructor Katie Miner helped influence her to pursue a career in nutrition.

“Those women advised and counseled me through the process,” Ellis said. “They were encouraging and passionate about their job.

When you have that attitude about what you’re doing, it definitely rubs off on other people and shows other people what’s possible.”

Ellis said she will leave the program with lasting memories and strong bonds with her teammates.

“I hope I showed them that anything is possible when you have God on your side,” Ellis said. “If anything, I want people to know they should play volleyball because they love it. That’s really what I want people to remember about me.”

Luis Torres can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @TheLTFiles

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