As senior Jessica Hoeffner gripped the handle of the 20-pound steel ball in her hand, she spun on her left heel and right toe three times, then released the weight. Her throw traveled farther than any throw in school history at 50 feet and 3 1/2 inches — not bad for an outside hitter for the volleyball team.
Hoeffner has juggled competing in the shot put and weight throw for the indoor track team while being one of the top outside hitters for the volleyball team. She also competes in the shot put, hammer throw, discus and javelin for the track and field team in the spring.
Competing for both teams requires her to attend three training sessions per day during the spring season.
Hoeffner said among all the sports she has played in high school and college, her passion is for volleyball.
“It’s more exciting for me to get a kill than to throw far,” she said. “It’s just not the same excitement.”
Hoeffner’s athletic talents have always been widely spread. In her freshman and sophomore years at Hauppauge High School on Long Island, she competed for the Eagles’ varsity volleyball, basketball and softball teams in addition to playing club soccer year-round. She decided to pursue track her junior year of high school after she discovered lacrosse would conflict with her club soccer schedule.
Her teammates said her versatility, which stems from her competing in two sports, helped her set new program records in a short period of time.
Senior Kate Middleton, a thrower on the women’s indoor track team and president of the women’s club volleyball team, said the squatting and explosiveness necessary for volleyball translate well into throwing. She said Hoeffner never boasts about her achievements and listens more than she speaks.
“She’ll laugh at jokes or maybe comment every once in a while,” Middleton said. “She’s not completely silent, but she is not very talkative either.”
Senior Lauren Barchi, Hoeffner’s roommate and friend since the second grade, said Hoeffner’s competitive nature from playing sports translates to any activity.
“Card games, or even who is going to get to the car first — she needs to win,” she said. “It’s not fun unless she wins.”
Barchi said she has witnessed Hoeffner’s dedication and growth mindset since they were soccer teammates in high school. At her first track meet with Hauppauge High School, Hoeffner was the only member of her team entered in the shot put. She said she was unaware that athletes were expected to bring their own weights to the meet.
“I thought, ‘Why would I need to bring my own shot put? Don’t they provide them?’” she said. “This is the weirdest sport ever.”
Despite her inexperience, Hoeffner won the event with a throw of 28 feet and 11 inches.
Hoeffner was named Empire 8 Conference Rookie of the Year after winning the shot put and placing in the top six in the javelin, hammer throw and discus during the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
Hoeffner has broken the school record in the weight throw during both of the women’s indoor track team’s meets this season. She broke the old school record, which stood at 48 feet and six inches, set by Erin Stevens ’00. Hoeffner’s record stood for a month until she broke it again with a throw of 51 feet and one-quarter inch at the Cornell Upstate Challenge on Saturday.
Last spring, Hoeffner began to improve her technique in the hammer throw by figuring out the heel-toe method of spinning and using her right arm to push the ball away from her body. Jennifer McDonnell, an assistant coach for the women’s indoor track team, said Hoeffner has developed her skill in the event because she has been able to control the movement of the weight as she spins.
“The tail was wagging the dog instead of the dog wagging the tail,” McDonnell said. “Now she is able to move the weight rather than it throwing her around.”
Despite her athletic accomplishments, Hoeffner remains soft-spoken, describing her performance on Saturday as “pretty good,” adding that she set a personal best. She never mentioned that the throw broke her own school record.
Hoeffner’s active lifestyle was halted when she tore her ACL in the first week of the volleyball team’s preseason practices. Hoeffner said she was performing a simple hitting drill, but when she landed, she felt a pop and lost all stability in her knee.
“I knew it was season-ending immediately,” she said. “I didn’t admit it to myself, but I knew.”
Surgery repaired the torn ligament two months later, and Hoeffner was cleared to play in the volleyball team’s spring season six months after that. She could not compete for the track team because the twisting and turning of throwing would have been harmful to her knee’s recovery.
In her junior volleyball season, Hoeffner made up for lost time by helping the volleyball team to win the Empire 8 Conference Championship. She ranked third on the team with 286 kills and earned first team All-Empire 8 Honors.
Hoeffner said she was able to commiserate with another athlete in the training room who needed to undergo the same recovery process.
“Me and the trainers were very close,” she said. “There was also another girl from the soccer team in the training room, and we used to say we were ACL twins because we tore them one day apart and had surgery one day apart.”
As her athletic career on South Hill winds down, Hoeffner wants to attend California State University Dominguez Hill for her graduate studies. She interned at a biomechanics lab at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., this summer where she developed an interest in prosthetics and orthotics.
Hoeffner said her internship taught her more about prosthetic limbs designed for particular sports, including a prosthetic arm made for volleyball.
“I like the hands-on work and using all the tools to directly help people,” she said. “It is just so insane that you can help them do what they are passionate about.”