Bonilla Using Own Dream to Bring Hope

June 05, 2009, 10:51 a.m. (ET)

COPY BY: Maura Gladys
Intern, Media Relations and Publications
Phone: 719-228-6800
E-Mail: Maura.Gladys@usav.org

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 5, 2009) – Every time Jennifer Bonilla (Reseda, Calif.) steps on a volleyball court, she is not only working towards her own dream of playing in the Olympics, but also trying to bring hope to the people of her community.

The libero, who was raised in inner-city Los Angeles as the daughter of an immigrant mother, will move closer to accomplishing both of those goals when she takes the court this summer for the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team at the FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.

“I am very honored to be named to the team,” said Bonilla, whose mother is from El Salvador. “It’s a big deal to represent your country. Since I first started USA Volleyball, it’s been a dream of mine to reach that ultimate level, playing on the national team and then the Olympics. So I feel like every year it’s like a new step up towards that dream.”

Bonilla began playing volleyball when she was 8 years old after hearing encouragement from her godfather Gustavo Beltran, who coached the volleyball team at her school.

“I guess he saw something in me, and he said ‘Hey, you should come play,’” Bonilla said.

As she got older, Bonilla began to get serious about the sport, taking private lessons and joining a local volleyball club – En Fuego – in 2001. Three years later, she was named to the 2004 USA Volleyball High Performance Girls’ National A1 Roster and has been with USA Volleyball ever since.

After a summer in the Girls’ National A2 program, Bonilla made the leap in 2006 to USA Select A1 Camp and assisted her squad to the USA Volleyball High Performance Championship silver medal in the Youth International Division. One year later, she played a major role in her USA Select A1 Red Team winning the 2007 USA Volleyball High Performance Championship gold medal in the Junior International Division.

Jennifer Bonilla (left) accepting congratulations from NORCECA President Cristobal Marte at the 2008 NORCECA Girls' Youth Continental Championship.Bonilla’s climb up the ladder continued in 2008 as she sparked the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team to the gold medal at the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental Championship. The squad, which did not lose a single set, earned a ticket a to this year’s 2009 FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championship. Individually, she was honored with the Best Libero award at the NORCECA event. She also travelled to Europe with the U.S. Girls’ Youth Team between December 2008 and January 2009.

Bonilla has excelled with both club and high school teams outside of the USAV High Performance pipeline. She was named all-tournament in the 15 Open Division of the 2007 USA Junior Olympic Girls’ Volleyball Championships after her squad, SCVC 15 Elite, won the gold medal. In 2009, she played outside hitter and opposite for Beverly Hills-based Sports Shack 18s under the coaching of Tim Jensen.

In the prep world, Bonilla has also made a name for herself at Marymount High School. In 2006 she led Marymount to CIF and California state titles, earning accolades on PrepVolleyball.com’s Top 59 Freshman list. In 2008, Bonilla was named to the All-CIF Division I Team and selected to Volleyball Magazine’s 30 Underclassmen to Watch.

According to U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team Head Coach Jim Stone, the team will be relying on Bonilla’s experience and leadership.

“She is one of the more experienced players that we have coming back from last summer,” Stone said. “She’s been in the High Performance program for several years. She went to Puerto Rico last summer and she went to Europe in the winter, so she’s got some international experience. We’re counting on her to play her position well but also lend some leadership and stability to the team.”

Bonilla, who will be a senior at Marymount in the fall, has verbally committed to the University of Illinois. But for now, her focus is on the World Championship.

“We’re going to have a lot of time to train and get to know each other,” Bonilla said. “I think if we work hard enough and if we believe enough, hopefully we’re going to be able to medal.”

No matter where Bonilla’s volleyball career takes her, she’ll never forget that she’s been given a special opportunity.

“From where I come from, I don’t see college scholarships,” Bonilla said. “I don’t see kids going off to four-year colleges or becoming Olympians. Especially with my family, things like that don’t come up. It’s not like my family was like, ‘Oh, let’s put you on a club team, and maybe you’ll get a scholarship.’ It didn’t really happen like that.

“That’s another reason why this is such a big deal for me,” Bonilla continued. “No one in my family has ever done anything like this. So, it’s something that’s very special, it’s very personal.”

Bonilla strives to be a role model and an inspiration for the people in her community. She often returns to her grade school where she volunteers and shares her story.

“I talk to the younger players at the school about what I’ve done,” Bonilla recounts. “Since I know what they’re going through, I can connect with them. I can tell them ‘You guys, this is what we see, this is how our lives are, but there’s a way to get out. There’s a way to work hard, to have dreams, to go for it.’ So, I feel like I do more than just play for myself. I try to motivate others and I try to do something that will give them hope.”

Bonilla lists Jackie Robinson, the Major League Baseball player who broke the baseball color barrier in 1947, as her most admired person. Her favorite book is John Wooden’s A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court.

This summer in Thailand, Bonilla will be seeking to break her own barriers, on and off the court, for herself and for those who admire her in the inner-city areas of Los Angeles.

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