Future looks bright for freshman libero Bonilla

Freshman volleyball player Jennifer Bonilla has been fitting in well on the No. 6 Illinois volleyball team in her first season, as the Reseda, Calif. native entered the starting lineup Week 1.

She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday for the second time this season after having 32 digs Sept. 29 against Wisconsin — tied for the sixth most during a match in school history — and 27 digs against Northwestern on Saturday. Bonilla currently stands at third in the conference for digs per set with 4.89.

For her, it’s just what she was brought here to do.

“It’s a great honor; it’s an award, it’s nice,” Bonilla said. “Gotta keep working hard and move on.”

Although she is a freshman, she feels the standards aren’t any different for her.

“I just see myself as just another player — the expectations are still high for me as well,” Bonilla said. “I just have to work my butt off every single day.”

Head coach Kevin Hambly was happy to bring her into the program, as Bonilla said she hadn’t looked at Illinois much before visiting but then immediately fell in love with it.

“I’m excited she’s here and not somewhere else, that’s for sure,” Hambly said.

It’s been three years since the team has seen a freshman libero. Bonilla was brought into the program after senior Ashley Edinger, who also started during her freshman year, graduated last year.

Although Edinger and Bonilla have similar situations, Hambly said they were very different types of people.

“Jen is much calmer on the floor, and Ashley’s a little more tense, a yeller or screamer,” Hambly said. “For this style of team, Jen’s right, and I think Ashley was the right libero for her group, to be honest.”

Hambly said Bonilla is a better natural athlete than Edinger and has the potential to be better than her, but the question will be how she can do emotionally — if she will have the strong will that Edinger had.

Right now, Bonilla is focused on improving and doing the best she can for the team.

“Of course there’s things I always can improve on; I’m never satisfied with anything I do,” Bonilla said. “My job is to serve, pass, play defense and take the second ball sometimes. So I’m going to keep working on it.”

Laura DeBruler, along with the other seniors, is just excited to see what Bonilla can accomplish in the coming seasons.

“I’m really excited to come back these next couple years after graduating and see where this freshman class is gonna be,” DeBruler said. “Because I think they’re gonna be awesome, and I think this program is going to be continuing to be really great.”

DeBruler thinks Bonilla sticks out on the team, not only as a player, but as a person, as Bonilla is “wise for her age.”

“She’ll be a pretty big leader down the road, and she’ll probably fill some of our senior leadership skills when we leave,” DeBruler said.