Jenna Villa is the ultimate game-changer at the high school level.
With her seemingly limitless shooting range, she can drain NBA-length 3-pointers and light it up from long distance.
With her polished ball-handling and athleticism, she can beat defenders off the dribble and use her tall frame and finishing ability to pile up points inside.
And when opposing teams invariably bring extra defenders to try to slow her down, the uber-talented 6-foot-2 Arlington High School junior guard is adept at dishing the ball to teammates for open shots.
“If you don’t get on her to 28 feet, she’ll shoot it,” Arlington girls basketball coach Joe Marsh said. “And if you go get her, she’s gonna go by you. And she’ll finish. And she makes her free throws. And she finds her teammates.
“She’s a matchup nightmare in high school. And it makes us better offensively all the way around, because it frees up some of those other kids to get some easy looks.”
Villa’s rare combination of height, versatility and elite talent was on full display this winter during the Eagles’ success-filled season.
She averaged 21 points per game, while shooting 36% from 3-point range and 85% from the free-throw line. She added nine rebounds, three assists and three steals per contest.
And she helped lead Arlington to a 21-3 campaign that included an unbeaten run to the Wesco 3A/2A title, a district championship and a third-place trophy at the Class 3A Hardwood Classic.
For her spectacular season and enormous overall impact on the Eagles’ success, Villa is The Herald’s 2021-22 All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime kid for me,” Marsh said. “She does everything for us. … It’s a rarity to have a kid who’s a junior in high school who can do all of those things at such a high level.”
What makes Villa so unique is she has both the skill set of a top-tier guard and the height of a typical high school center.
Villa said she’s always been tall for her age. But despite her height, she played point guard during her first two years of club ball in fifth and sixth grade. By seventh grade, she began branching out and playing a variety of positions.
It’s resulted in a supreme level of versatility that’s helped make Villa a four-star prospect and the No. 55 junior recruit in the nation, according to ESPN.com.
“A lot of times, kids just get pigeonholed at a young age when they’re tall like that,” Marsh said. “She’s been long since she was little. But she’s always just worked on everything. It’s pretty amazing what she does at her size and length.”
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Villa’s arsenal is her long-distance shooting.
Villa is lethal from beyond the arc, as she showed numerous times this season. She sank a school-record 10 3-pointers during a 34-point performance against Mountlake Terrace in December. She shot 37% from 3-point range at the Hardwood Classic in the Tacoma Dome, which is a notoriously tough place to shoot.
And it’s not uncommon to see Villa drill shots from several feet — or more — beyond the 3-point line.
“I have never seen a kid who can shoot with that kind of range consistently,” Marsh said. “… We laugh in games sometimes, because people don’t believe that she’s gonna shoot it out there. So you have kids that are two to three feet off of her.
“And we’re like, ‘She’s gonna shoot that all day long.’ And she does. And she makes them.”
Villa said her father didn’t let her shoot 3-pointers until fifth grade. That helped her focus on the proper shooting form, instead of falling victim to the bad habits some kids develop when shooting from too far at a young age.
As a result, Villa maintains consistent form even when launching NBA-range 3-pointers.
“She shoots it easy,” Marsh said. “Her jump shot from 15 feet doesn’t look much different from her jump shot from 25 feet. It’s really amazing how good a shooter she is.”
And when defenders have to guard against the threat of a deep 3-pointer, that only opens Villa’s game even more.
“If she’s got a player one-on-one, she’s gonna get by them,” Marsh said. “And then the best part about Jenna is she’s unselfish. She did such a great job this year of getting our other players involved. She’s a high-level passer.
“She makes everybody better around her,” he added. “It’s kind of a cliche, but it’s true.”
Villa scored at least 14 points in every game this season and netted 25-plus points six times. One of her most dominant performances came in the 3A state regional round, when she scored 27 points in less than three quarters to lead the Eagles to an emphatic rout of Kelso.
Villa was complemented by senior point guard Keira Marsh, a Cal State East Bay signee who averaged 16 points per game this year. The two Arlington standouts were a formidable duo over the past few seasons, including in 2020 when they helped lead the Eagles to a third-place state trophy.
But outside of Villa and Keira Marsh, this year’s Arlington team was relatively inexperienced. So for the Eagles to reach their full potential, Villa knew she had to help develop her team’s supporting cast.
“Jenna could average 30 points a game. It wouldn’t be that difficult (for her),” Joe Marsh said. “But she understood that, for us to have the success as a team, it was just really important to develop some other kids. And she’s just done such a great job of helping them.”
Joe Marsh praised Villa for stepping into a bigger leadership role this winter. He said Villa has a high basketball IQ, which made her almost like a coach on the floor.
“She thinks the game at a high level,” Joe Marsh said. “It’s really impressive. I mean, the kid is only a junior in high school and she understands high-level basketball concepts. … And she does a really good job of helping teammates with that.”
While her offense draws most of the attention, Villa excels on the other side of the ball too. She was a key part of Arlington’s full-court pressure defense, finishing second on the team in steals. And in the 3A state quarterfinals, she blocked four shots in the Eagles’ three-point win over league rival Snohomish.
“She just does so many things,” Joe Marsh said. “… She’s just so valuable to our program and our success.”
Villa capped her season with 23 points, eight rebounds and three assists to lead Arlington past top-seeded Mead in the 3A third-place game.
The victory gave Keira Marsh and the Eagles’ other three seniors a nice sendoff gift — the program’s second consecutive third-place state trophy.
“It was awesome,” Villa said of her team’s success. “… It was a really fun year, and I really wanted our seniors to have that (success in) their last year. So I feel really good about it.”
And the best part for Arlington? Villa still has one more season with the Eagles.
“She’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached — and that’s saying something,” Joe Marsh said. “She’s a great kid. She’s got a great attitude. Nobody works harder than she does. Nobody puts in more time in their game. It’s just really a dream come true as a coach.
“It’s crazy,” he added. “(Assistant coach Sean Marsh) and I keep talking about what her upside is. How far is that? Is there a limit on it? It’s pretty fun to think about.”
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