Arlington senior Jenna Villa repeats as The Herald’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the 2022-23 season. Photographed on Sunday, March 26, 2023, at Arlington High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Arlington senior Jenna Villa repeats as The Herald’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the 2022-23 season. Photographed on Sunday, March 26, 2023, at Arlington High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Jenna Villa

The Washington State-bound senior averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds while leading Arlington to a 3rd straight state semifinal berth.

It didn’t take Jenna Villa long to make a lasting impression on her future high school basketball coaches.

By the time she was in fifth grade, Villa was already turning heads at team camps.

“My brother (assistant coach) Sean (Marsh) and I would look at each other and he’d go, ‘Did you see that move Jenna made?’” Arlington coach Joe Marsh recalled. “… You could see the older kids in camp are looking around and going, ‘Who’s this kid?’

“She’s a little fifth grader playing with the big girls and doing things they can’t do. I think that’s probably the time when we really knew she had a chance to be special.”

Indeed, Villa was special during her four years with Eagles.

The four-year varsity guard played an integral role while helping the Class 3A power reach the state semifinals and claim a top-five trophy in all three seasons that featured a state tournament. Arlington went 74-12 and 39-1 in Wesco 3A/2A play over Villa’s four seasons, which includes three district championships and two unbeaten runs to Wesco 3A/2A titles.

She posted 16 points per game or more in each of her final three seasons, averaging over 20 points in each of the past two. And she became just the fourth Arlington player to reach 1,000 career points this past December, which was just the start of another spectacular year for the Eagles’ senior.

Villa, a Washington State University signee, averaged 22 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists while leading Arlington to a fifth-place finish at state. The sharpshooting standout knocked down 71 3-pointers at a 36% clip and took advantage of every opportunity at the foul line while converting 85% of her attempts from the stripe.

For the second consecutive season, Villa is The Herald’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

Arlington’s Jenna Villa shoots a 3-pointer against Stanwood on Jan. 25 at Arlington High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Arlington’s Jenna Villa shoots a 3-pointer against Stanwood on Jan. 25 at Arlington High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

With an elite combination of length, shooting ability, on-ball skills and overall basketball IQ, the 6-foot-2 Villa has the size of a high school center but the skills of a high-level guard. It provides the kind of diverse repertoire that’s a coach’s dream or nightmare. It just depends on what bench they’re sitting on.

Villa can pull up and drain 3s from 25-feet and even deeper. She can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, using her size and touch to finish at the hoop. And when teams throw every defense they can at her to try and slow her down, she’s ready and willing to help create for those around her.

Her length and athleticism also pay major dividends on the boards and defensively for the Eagles.

“It’s really unique to have that kind of skill set at the high school level with a kid who is that long,” Marsh said. “I’ve never had anybody like her and I doubt I’ll ever have anybody like her again honestly. She’s just that kind of a special kid.”

Despite always being tall for her age, Villa was never pigeonholed as being a post player at the youth level. She even played point guard for her first club team in fourth grade. Current four-star Garfield junior point guard Katie Fiso was on that team as well but played a role as the team’s “screener” while Villa was the primary ballhandler.

Villa said she realized early on that having her size and ability to play on the perimeter meant her versatility would help keep her on the court.

“I’m really happy I didn’t get stuck (playing post) and I got to do everything,” Villa said. “It’s been nice.”

It’s certainly paid off.

Her special talents earned her Gatorade State Player of the Year honors this season. She was also named Miss Basketball by the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association and earned her second straight Wesco 3A/2A Player of the Year nod.

At times throughout the season, Villa simply carried a relatively young around her while it was still finding its footing. She scored 35 points in a tight two-point loss to open the season against eventual 3A state runner-up Lake Washington and regularly put up 20-plus points during a challenging first month that featured six state qualifiers in eight games. During a key Wesco 3A/2A showdown with rival Stanwood in January, Villa scored 19 of the Eagles’ 21 first-half points and kept the team from falling too far behind early in a comeback victory that had major implications in the conference title chase.

“One of the great luxuries as a coach when you have Jenna on the floor is you know you can get a basket when you need one,” Marsh said. “… I think that was a big thing early on. We definitely needed her to kind of steady the ship and I think just having Jenna on the floor makes everybody who’s on the floor with her confident. That’s hard to measure.”

Arlington’s Jenna Villa drives to the hoop during the 3A quarterfinal game against Meadowdale on March 2 in Tacoma. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlington’s Jenna Villa drives to the hoop during the 3A quarterfinal game against Meadowdale on March 2 in Tacoma. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Villa’s work ethic and willingness to share her already vast basketball knowledge are other aspects where measuring her impact is tough.

Easy to hear and always talking on the court, Villa embodies the coach-on-the-floor mantra and takes pride in leading her teammates.

“I feel like I need to spread my knowledge,” she said. “I feel like I have a high IQ and it needs to be shared and it’s selfish of me if I don’t.”

After home games at Arlington, it’s not uncommon to see Villa posing for pictures with the next generation of Arlington hoopsters. She’s a bit of a celebrity to the town’s young basketball players, who dubbed her the nickname “Jenna Killa” due to her fierce competitiveness and lethal scoring ability.

“It’s really cool,” Villa said. “It’s never something I’ve had before this year. I just remember as a kid I would do that. That was me. It’s just really nice giving back because I feel like that’s gonna come through our program and it’s just going to help them a lot.”

The next step in Villa’s basketball journey is a trip across the state to the prairies of the Palouse where she’ll begin her college playing career in the Pac-12 at WSU.

The Cougars extended an offer to Villa as an eighth grader and were the first major program to invest noticeable interest in the Arlington star. The team’s longstanding commitment in courting Villa played a major role in her signing.

“They wanted me from the beginning and they never wavered in their faith in me,” she said.

WSU is a rising program in the Pac-12 right now. The Cougars have reached three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and won their first-ever Pac-12 Tournament title this season.

Marsh believes they’re adding a rising star into the fold.

“I think Jenna is going to help them right away,” Marsh said. “… I just think that she does so many things that there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s going to be ready to step in and be productive at the college level.”

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