By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Sure, everything the Miami East volleyball team does begins with Jonni Parker and Kyndall Hellyer.
But it ends with the thing that makes the Vikings the strongest — the togetherness of the entire team.
With Anna trying to stay alive down 2-0 in the regional semifinal round, a pair of kills by Reagan Morrett and a pair of aces by Jillian Wesco during a four-point run erased an 11-8 deficit and set up Parker’s six-point service run that sealed the match.
After dropping the first set to Newark Catholic during the regional final, Lindsey Black and a concerted team defensive effort slowed down the Green Wave’s Taylor Daignault, then big plays on offense by Kati Runner, Morrett, Wesco and strong serving by Carly Gump — along with big numbers by Parker and Hellyer — helped the Vikings tie the score in a rout of a second set.
And in Games 3 and 4, Emma Monnin gave the Wave defense more to worry about, putting down a number of cross-court kills when the defense rushed to cover Parker and Hellyer. And once the defense was worried about more, that just made Parker and Hellyer’s jobs that much easier.
“That’s our No. 1 thing,” Wesco said. “Everyone plays a role. It’s not like, you’ll get a scouting report and ‘this is your No. 1 person.’ It’s pretty much all of us.”
“That’s been really nice,” Hellyer said. “When we play other teams, we’re worried about maybe one or two main hitters. But we’ve got a lot of strong ones now, and they’ve come a really long way this season. And I think we’re all a really big threat when we’re hitting, or doing anything really.”
It’s that ability to depend on anyone else, that knowledge that no matter who is on the floor, they have each other’s backs, that has led the Vikings from a slow start to the season all the way to the Division III state semifinal, where they will face Gilmour Academy at 2 p.m. today at Wright State’s Nutter Center for the right to play for a state championship.
“A lot of people out there didn’t think we could do it,” Karson Mahaney said. “But the team has really bonded so much over the past couple years. We’re all friends no matter what. We’re a family.”
“Part of your job as coach is to get the team to gel. But this year, the girls have kind of done that on their own,” Miami East coach Brian Bensman said. “The girls have all gotten so close, and not just through volleyball, either, but through the classroom, as well. They’re all friends off and on the court.”
The past two seasons, the Vikings have been eliminated in the regional semifinal round, both times to Versailles. With Bensman being their third coach in as many years, it took some time at the beginning of the year to find themselves, but by the time they played Bishop Hartley — a team Miami East had yet to defeat since they began playing each other — they were there.
“Our lineup was a little different at the beginning of the year,” Black said. “Once we figured that out, though, we started rolling. And when we beat Hartley, that was something. That was the day we knew we were part of something special.”
“I think everyone on the team gives us something state-worthy,” Gump said. “We’ve come a long way since summer league. We knew we were good, but we didn’t know just how good then. We knew we had a lot of potential, and our goal has always been to get to state. We look at the state title banners in the gym, and we’ve always said that we want to get back there to state. It’s an honor, going to state with this team. It’s so exciting. We’ve all just worked so well together.”
“Having three different coaches, it’s been tough. But we’ve really come together as a team,” Morrett said. “I’m just glad we’ve been able to come together and push each other when we need it.”
And the bond between Parker and Hellyer, the ability to know what the other is thinking and planning before it happens, is simply one strong example of the bigger picture.
“How many seasons have we played together?” Hellyer asked Parker.
“Wow, we first met each other doing JO,” Parker said. “Ever since we were 13?”
“She used to go to West Liberty, so we just talked on volleyball terms,” Hellyer said. “But now she goes to our school, we became friends and talked more and our thinking is like …”
“Oh, so we weren’t friends in JO?” Parker said, making them both laugh.
“Throughout the season, we’ve all grown to help each other out,” Parker said. “Telling each other shots are, where to place the ball, what we can do better. I think it helps a lot.
“It’s not like we can go to that one person on the team and ask them what we can do. I can turn to Lindsey, Jillian, Taylor, Kyndall — I can go to anybody and they can tell me what I can do better, what I can work on, vice versa.”
“This year’s been one of those turning points,” Hellyer said. “We’ve just grown so much closer as a team. There’s a lot more togetherness and not as much separation as last year.”
And with every member of the roster being on the same page, any one member can sum up how the team feels confidence-wise heading into today’s match.
Wesco may have done it best.
“I feel like we’re all over the moon right now,” she said. “Everyone’s just so pumped. We look at those banners in our gym every day. We’re always reminded of that — and we all really want another one up there. Really bad.”
And if they succeed, it will be because they did it the only way they know how.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.