Humboldt State’s Lenox Loving establishes herself as a top volleyball player
Watching the Humboldt State volleyball team this season, it’s impossible not to notice the Jacks’ breakout performer Lenox Loving.
Standing at 5’9″, the sophomore from Fair Oaks, California isn’t the tallest player on her team in a sport that is often dominated by height. Loving makes up for that with pure athleticism and an unrelenting work effort noted by her teammates and coaches. In her second season at the collegiate level, Loving has found a regular home in the Jacks’ rotation and seems poised to solidify her place as one of the team’s top scorers.
While fans of Humboldt State volleyball may find it difficult to imagine the women’s team without the offensive powerhouse of Loving, her decision to play the game in college wasn’t made easily. Her interest in the sport initially came from watching her sister play in tournaments, which made her want to try it out for herself.
“I also did soccer and track growing up,” Loving said. “So I didn’t know what sport I wanted to play in college. It wasn’t really until my sophomore year in high school that I really decided that I wanted to play in college.”
Loving began establishing herself in a hitting role during her junior and senior year with Zara Budenbender, her coach at Bella Vista High School. Budenbender coached Loving from the time that she made varsity as a freshman and knew her from coaching Loving’s sister. Budenbender believes that Loving’s ability to adapt to the game situation and be effective from all areas of the court is what put her ahead in a highly competitive club volleyball environment.
“Her senior year we also worked more on her hitting out of the back row,” Budenbender said. “So she was an attack front row or back row. She was just someone who was consistently putting the ball in the court and putting it away. So not just hitting it in, but with force that other teams couldn’t return.”
“She’s a skilled player already. But she’s making big strides because of a combination of being very coachable and having a good skill set and great athletic ability.”Kelly Wood, Head Coach for HSU’s Volleyball Team
Despite a freshman season for Loving which saw her with only 54 kills, she bounced back and worked hard over the summer and the weeks leading into the preseason. At the time of writing this article, Loving had 104 kills in just 29 sets played. Much of her work in the spring and summer revolved around playing doubles outdoors. Head Coach Kelly Wood feels that this is one area in particular that has proven to be a strength for Loving and allowed her to elevate her game.
“She’s a skilled player already,” Wood said. “But she’s making big strides because of a combination of being very coachable and having a good skill set and great athletic ability.”
Loving acknowledges that her opening season for Humboldt State was not the most successful. But she doesn’t seem overly concerned in hindsight now that she has more experience at the collegiate level.
“I think last season just being a freshman,” Loving said. “I played like a typical freshman. I was just really nervous and I didn’t get a lot of exposure, so I wasn’t really confident in my play.”
First-year struggles behind her, Loving has emerged this year as one of the key pieces for Jacks’ volleyball success in the early stages of the season. Even with the attention directed at her individual effort, Loving often refers to the team as a whole when it comes to finding ways to score. This has not gone unnoticed by teammates who share this sentiment and have nothing but good things to say about Loving.
Junior Lexi Riggs has played with Loving the last two seasons and sees having her on the team as a benefit both in performance and in personality.
“I think her athleticism is a huge advantage for our team,” Riggs said. “She just has a really good attitude and presence on the court. You never are down playing next to Lenox. She always is positive, good energy and she is just super athletic.”
This sentiment is echoed by Loving’s teammate and roommate Juliana Bertolucci, who points to the difficult nature of the outside hitter position and how well Loving can handle the ball in tough situations.
“She does well at bettering the ball,” Bertolucci said. “If there is someone that makes maybe not that great of a set or if there’s not that great of a pass she’s always ready to help out, and she’s always ready to make a better decision on the ball.”
For Riggs, Loving’s athletic success this season is just one more reason why she’s special to the team.
“I think she’s just such a great person,” Riggs said. “Everyone who knows Lenox knows she’s an awesome person and I think she’s a great athlete too. I mean, I can’t say enough. I love Lenox, she’s awesome. And we all do, It makes me super proud watching Lenox out there doing as great as she is.”
For her coach and teammates, Loving’s current performance is one more step in what is possible for the sophomore with two full years of competition still ahead of her. With opponents beginning to try and lock her down more frequently, Wood remains confident that she will be able to grow even further as a player.
“I’m so optimistic and hopeful to see what she’s able to do in these next couple of years,” Wood said. “Right now just all of a sudden, her confidence has appeared because she’s having the success she’s having, early on in our season.”
With the team as such a big part of her life on and off the court, Loving attributes much of her personal achievement to the whole group showing how confidence in her teammates has allowed her to achieve such high point production on an individual level.
“I wouldn’t have as many kills if weren’t for our defense and our setters,” Loving said. “Everyone on our team is so encouraging and I know that when I’m hitting, I feel confident that my back row can cover me. I’m confident that my setter is going to set me the sets that I need. It’s really nice having a team that I can just rely on so much and that has helped me succeed.”