Ashanti Jackson certainly isn’t short – at least not by common standards.
But on the volleyball court, even the six-foot Monterey Trail High School senior outside hitter can seem undersized.
Of course, his 43- to 44-inch vertical leaping ability is the ultimate equalizer.
"Athletically, Ashanti is very quick and explosive," said his Mustangs
coach, Kingsley Claudy. "At six feet tall, he can easily dunk a basketball. But more
impressive is his hang time. He is up high looking over the block on
the other side and able to make any hitting adjustments."
Jackson’s athleticism and on-court IQ has made him a leader for the Monterey Trail Mustangs in his three years as a varsity player. As a junior for the Mustangs last season, he was named Player of the Year in the Delta River League and part of the All-League Team. Jackson also competes for the Northern California Volleyball Club 18-1 Black team, the No.1 club team in California, Claudy said.
"He has a great jump serve that requires timing and a powerful arm swing," Claudy said. "He sees the court very well, can read the hitters on the other team, and
this allow him to be a great blocker and digger."
Jackson committed Thursday morning to play volleyball at Emmanuel College in Boston.
Elk Grove Patch caught up with Jackson early in his senior season to talk about his love of the game and his upcoming plans.
What led you to volleyball?
I realized how much fun it was. I played my freshman season on junior varsity more as an experiment to try a new sport and see what it was like. But when I got back into it during my sophomore year, I worked harder and have loved it ever since. I play as much as I can, indoor or outdoor.
Do you think volleyball deserves more attention?
Yes, I do. People usually ask me about it and don’t even know that guys' volleyball exists. It’s fun and people don’t realize that. People who play on grass or sand courts, even if they don’t play regularly, 99 percent of them have a lot of fun. Plus, there are a lot of really good volleyball players out there who people should watch. It’s a hard sport and it should be recognized a lot more.
What’s your favorite part of the game?
Being in competitive situations and driving out the win. It means a lot to work hard and know that you have worked hard over a long period of time at practice. When you get a good win, it feels like you deserved it. Win or lose, if the team plays well and it’s a good loss or a good win – that’s the greatest part of the game.
What’s a better feeling: Setting up a good pass or delivering a spike?
They're both pretty amazing feelings! Being an outside hitter, maybe a good spike feels better. But I think they are equal, because I do like setting up my teammates for a kill. I look at those as equal stats. I know if I get a good spike, that’s because my passer had a good pass and vice versa. I like them both equally.
Can you remember the moment you began to love the game?
My freshman year, I’d stay to watch varsity matches and we had a really nice team, led by a player named Mark Slavik from the Czech Republic. I thought that he was a really athletic kid and he was doing well. Ever since then, I kind of made that my goal. I began working harder, trying to be like that.
What makes you stand out in volleyball?
I’m a leader and I’m very vocal on the court. I lead by example and by emotion. My competitiveness drives me. I do not like to lose at all.
Can you think of an example of that vocal leadership?
If the team is down, I’ll pick them up through compliments. Or, if it’s an intense situation, just jump around a little bit to release some stress.
I am one of the head captains. We also have another senior captain. It’s our job to be the guys who our teammates look to. Guys like Mark Slavic inspired me. Being a leader, I have to motivate the younger players – the freshman and sophomores – and show them that the game is not always about winning. When you have fun, and play hard, more than likely you will win. That’s my job as a leader: to have fun, encourage them and pick them up.
Congratulations on your commitment to Emmanuel College in Boston. I imagine that has to be a great feeling.
Yes, it is pretty exciting. It was a tough choice between UC San Diego and Emmanuel College. But I felt I would fit in more with their program.
And are you excited about living in Boston?
I am very excited. I went on a recruiting trip out there, spent time with the team and visited the city. It was really nice out there.
What’s a personal favorite moment in a match?
Recently, with my club team, we were playing in a tight situation, up one against a very good team. Either team could have won. Our coach called a timeout and told us that in order to win, we’d have to serve the ball, take a good hit, scrape it up and that would lead to the kill. Just as planned, it was a phenomenal hit by our opponent, I was able to dig it up and we got the kill and the win. It went exactly as planned.
Is that something you really enjoy, the strategy of it?
Yes. Strategy is a very important part of the game. That’s another reason I think the sport should be recognized. It takes a very intellectual person to play the game.
What other hobbies do you enjoy outside of volleyball?
I like playing basketball. And I play volleyball even off the hardwood, on the sand courts at the park and get as many reps as possible.
So, outside of volleyball—more volleyball?
(Laughs) I play Call of Duty too, of course.