Nov. 21, 2008
Since 2005, their numbers have been called 121 times apiece during the starting lineup introductions, more than all but five other Clemson volleyball players in history. They have been involved in 80 Tiger victories, an ACC Championship and an NCAA Tournament second-round appearance. And over the last four years, Jeannette Abbott and Danielle Hepburn have rewritten the school record books. Their names are splattered from match records to season bests, setting new standards for career statistics and collecting numerous honors and accolades along the way.
Yet, fans are likely to have just two more chances to see these exceptional talents perform at Jervey Gym. Clemson plays host to Maryland and Boston College this weekend with Saturday’s match against the Eagles serving as Senior Night. Show your thanks for the excitement and memories they have created on the court over the last four years, and take advantage of your last opportunities to see two of Clemson volleyball’s best.
Their paths to Clemson differed, but together they have played large roles in the reemergence of Tiger volleyball. Abbott committed to Head Coach Jolene Jordan Hoover early in her high school career, choosing the school for several reasons but instantly drawn to the beauty of the campus. The climate was a welcome change from the bitter winters of Chicago.
“I took a whirlwind tour of the East Coast and ACC schools,” said Abbott, “but when I visited Clemson, the campus and the other players from the Chicago area sold me.”
Although Abbott is one of just two current players from Illinois, Hoover and her staff have historically targeted the region. The 2005 roster had five players from the suburbs of the Windy City and three had played for the same Sports Performance club team as Abbott. Not to mention that Hoover and Assistant Coach Jodi Steffes Welp also hail from the Land of Lincoln.
The 6’0″ outside hitter picked up volleyball when she was 11 at the encouragement of her then-softball coach. (Abbott claims to have been as tall then as she is now!)
She began to focus solely on volleyball at age 13 and started the recruitment process early. Abbott toured Clemson as a sophomore and verbally committed to Hoover and the Tigers in September of her junior year. Abbott sent Hoover a picture from that day, which she kept.
Meanwhile, Hepburn left the sun and beaches of Miami for Tigertown. She was the #51 national prospect according to Prepvolleyball.com but also decided on Clemson early.
“Clemson showed the most interest and was very persistent,” Hepburn said. “Jolene was nicer than all the other coaches, so they stayed first on my list.”
Hoover also held onto the email Hepburn sent on the day she signed her National Letter of Intent.
Once on campus, both players earned the starting assignments immediately – Abbott on the outside, Hepburn in the middle – and have held the spots in nearly every set since.
Abbott quickly jumped into the spotlight with 26 kills in a three-setter at the University of Georgia just days into the 2005 season. The match was one of 11 in which she recorded at least 20 kills that year. She posted a school freshman-record 515 kills in 2005 en route to earning ACC and AVCA East Region Freshman-of-the-Year honors. Abbott also totaled 304 defensive saves with 79 blocks that season. Since then, she has gone on to record some of the highest figures for kills, attempts and kills per set in school history. Abbott has 1,721 career kills entering the weekend’s action to rank fourth all-time and is easily within reach of Clemson legend Cindy Stern’s 1,740 for third place.
Individually, Abbott has added several All-ACC and all-region awards, as well as an AVCA Honorable Mention All-America nod, to her trophy case. However, the team’s successes over the last two seasons have been the best rewards.
“I was really happy about those honors early in my career, but winning the ACC and going to the NCAA Tournament top any individual honor,” she explained.
Although steady as a rookie, Hepburn really shined in her second season. That year, she set school records with 158 block assists and a 1.71 blocks per set average, which ranked fifth nationally, to earn her first all-conference selection. Her .395 hitting percentage in 2007 is also tops for a single season and, combined with her .365 clip in 2006, ranks two of her seasons among the four highest all-time. Hepburn currently boasts a .390 figure that is on pace to give her three of the top five marks in school history.
This season, she has set new Clemson standards for career block assists (532) and total blocks (648) and will likely hold onto her career records for hitting percentage (.355) and blocks per set (1.46). Hepburn’s goal was always just to play consistently, but she has taken ownership of her records as of late.
“Cindy Stern’s, who is everywhere around here, called Jolene to congratulate me after I broke her blocking records,” she said. “I watch players coming in now and worry that they are going to be able to break mine.”
“I cannot begin to express how much Danielle and Jeannette have meant to our team and our program over the last four years,” said Hoover. “I am so proud of what both have achieved individually and what they have helped these teams to achieve.”
“They have established some records over the years that are going to be tough to break. Danielle and Jeannette have put a lot of points on the board for us and are going to be difficult to replace.”
As for their futures, Abbott and Hepburn are likely to head in different directions. Abbott, who will graduate next May, plans to return to Chicago and put her marketing degree to use in the business or public relations fields.
Hepburn hopes to continue on the volleyball track, either heading overseas to play or giving the beach circuit a try. She will also graduate in May to leave open the possibility of graduate assistant coaching position somewhere.
“Both Jeannette and Danielle have been leaders for our program and I know both will continue to be successful after their collegiate experience has finished,” expressed Hoover. “I hope they feel that we have been able to touch their lives in a positive way and I thank them for all they have given to our team and program.”
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