5-foot-9 outside hitter,
middle hitter named
All-County four times
By TONY CASTRO
F.W. Springstead’s finest volleyball player last fall – recent graduate – Jennifer Michelle Aten – will be journeying approximately 7½ hours from Spring Hill to her new digs: Division III Berry College Vikings in Mount Berry, Georgia.
The journey – mostly up I-75 – is expected to stretch 543 miles..
The 5-foot-9, 140-pounder is expected to report on campus by Aug. 15.
Jennifer was born the younger of two children to James and Denise Aten.
James, who hails from Ohio, played golf and basketball, and was a member of his school’s band.
By contrast, Denise, who hails from Jersey City, NJ, did not play any sports in high school.
The Aten’s have called Spring Hill home for years.
The brunette-tressed and hazel-eyed Aten was introduced to athletics at 4 years old.
She played two seasons of recreational youth soccer at Anderson Snow Sports Complex in Spring Hill.
At 3, Aten was active in dance. She remained active in dance until fifth grade.
In fifth-grade she played for her initial club volleyball team – the Wolfpack – out of Pasco County.
After a year, she transferred over to Hernando Elite team for sixth- and seventh-grade.
In middle school, she attended Challenger K-8 and made the junior volleyball and basketball teams as a sixth-grader.
That spring, she also joined the track and field squad and specialized in the half-mile, 1,600 meters and high jump.
As a seventh-grader, she made the varsity Navigators volleyball and basketball teams.
During track, she stuck to 800 and 1,600 meters, added the quarter mile and began throwing the discus.
By eighth-grade, Aten had found her niche on the volleyball court and opted against playing anything else.
When she wasn’t playing for the Navigators, she played club ball in Tampa. The squad eventually played in Clearwater.
Once she matriculated to the Mariner Boulevard campus of SHS, she gravitated to varsity volleyball.
She played two seasons under Kaitlin Wadsworth (freshman and sophomore) and last two under Kyra Leonard.
With Aten, the Eagles finished 11-10 in 2015 and 12-12 in 2016 under Wadsworth.
Leonard, another first-year mentor, guided the Eagles to 16-6 and 12-14, before stepping down.
In Leonard’s first season – with Player of the Year Alexis Thompson and along side middle hitter Sami McLeod – the Eagles hoisted the Hernando County championship.
The was the first time SHS had claimed the county crown since 2012 under Noemi Rivera.
The biggest issue during her prep years was the Eagles could not budge any of the top three district teams – Sunlake, Land O’ Lakes or Mitchell – to ever make the regional playoffs.
Aten did her part in 2018, leading the Lady Eagles in sets played (91), attacks (978), kills (465), kill percentage (47.5).
Her overall play was well received. She was named All-Hernando County four times in four seasons.
Outside of the volleyball court, Aten served as a two-year member of the BETA Club (junior and senior) and Evil Fan Club (freshman and sophomore).
An exceptional student/athlete, Aten maintained a 3.9 unweighted and a 4.2 weighted grade point average.
Her favorite courses included pre-calculus and Advanced Placement calculus with Mrs. DeBuke, AP Government with Jay McNerney and micro and macro economics with Brandon Wright.
Aten, 18, describes volleyball as “an adrenaline rush.”
“There’s so much energy on the court,” explained Aen. “Everybody has to put out.
“I love the team concept,” added Aten. “But I love the pace of the game, too.’
Her favorite facet, it’s sending missile off the opponent’s side of the court.
“Hitting gets me going,” she smiled. “Finishing a great pass is a great rush.”
For the versatile Aten, she takes a lot of pride playing a full rotation. Most “bigs” get rotated out.
“I just want to help the team be better,” she said. “To do that I had to learn to play the entire court.”
As far as the ultimate goal; that’s simple.
“The ultimate goal is to win,” shared Aten. “But like this year, we didn’t have the supporting cast we had in the past, so we had to look at the bigger picture. And just learn to become a better person due the relationships with our teammates.”
Her biggest improvement arrived in communicating with her teammates.
“It’s a huge part of the game,” stressed Aten. “I’ve become more comfortable using my voice. We had so many younger players this year, Olivia (DeLoach) and I pretty much led by example.”
After suffering through her first losing prep campaign, “I did whatever I could to help the team. Both Olivia and I had a lot of responsibilities. I thought we both handled it well.”
On biggest lessons learned from 2018, “Just to walk in to every match with a rookie mindset,” explained Aten. “Just because we’d beaten this team, say two of the last three of three of the last four years, it didn’t matter this time because we were so young.
“… Every match, we had to make the best of every opportunity.”
Though Aten was named All-County for the fourth time, junior outside hitter/middle hitter Maddie Clark of Nature Coast Technical was voted Player of the Year.
Aten demonstrated no ill will.
“Maddie Clark is an excellent player,” noted Aten. “Her team went far. I’m not upset at all (about not getting POY). Let‘s just say, I‘m using this as a motivation for the next level.”
Glancing at a mirror, “I wouldn’t call myself an aggressive player,” described Aten. “Nobody wins a game by themselves. You need every piece of the puzzle on the court to do their job.”
“My biggest assets include my energy. I get girls riled up,” she smiled. “I think I bring leadership thanks to all my club volleyball experience. I pass that prospective on to my teammates.”
Overall, “I think I’ve improved in all areas of my game,“ she said. “But especially on my mental side. When you’re a young player, you’re a little timid. I’m not scared or bashful anymore.”
In selecting her next home base, Aten whittled her choice of colleges to pair of D-III campuses: Denison University in Granville, Ohio and Berry College.
As far as a major, she’s undecided at this point.
Aten would like to study pre-business and go from there.
“I’m kinda hoping once I’m there, to figure that out,” she said.
“I made up my mind that I wanted to experience something new. Going out-of-state would be a good change,” she opted.
“I chose Berry because they’re an established program. They won their conference last year and made it to the NCAA Tournament. They’re highly ranked,” added Aten.
“I’m a big supporter of their culture, too. They don’t want to just win volleyball matches. They want to help their community be great.”
“… My initial impression was the coaches were excellent. Now, they’re competitive people, but they look at the bigger picture with every player.
“The campus is beautiful. It’s on thousands of acres. I thought – when I visited – that the people there were extremely welcoming. It was like, “This is where I fit in. Berry is the place that I need to be at.”
On what could be standing in the way of success, “I’m fortunate that my parents are well-rounded,” noted Aten. “They raised me with discipline. I realize that college will be tough. But I’m in for the challenge. I think I have a huge support system behind me.”
With less than five weeks remaining before reporting to Day 1 of college, “Everyone is nervous going into something like this (change), but I’m way more excited about the opportunity than I am nervous.”
Over the next month, Aten will continue to follow her regimented workout routine.
Three-four times a week she travels to Legacy Athletics under the tutelage of Mario Lovett.
In her “spare” time, she works out at Planet Fitness and makes sure she eats correctly.
On how she’d like to be remembered, “It’s not about my stats,” explained Aten. “I could care less about statistics. If records happen, they happen – that’s how I see it.
“I’d rather be remembered as person that you could always call on or talk to, if you had a problem or an issue,” shared Aten. “I’d rather be known as someone who could help in any way.”