JANESVILLE

Janesville Parker’s volleyball team has been taking steps forward the past few seasons.

The Vikings finished 2-7 in the Big Eight Conference in 2016. They were 3-6 a year later and then 4-5 a year ago.

Is this the year they break through and finish above .500?

Head coach Andy Kimball was not about to make predictions when it comes to wins and losses. But with five starters returning from last year’s team, he does expect the Vikings to continue making progress, and that started this weekend when they emerged from Friday pool play at 5-1 and in first place at the Cougar-Viking Classic. They finished 8-3.

“We’re excited about this year,” Kimball said. “We’ve got returning experience and like what we saw out of the girls this summer.”

Senior setter Shay Riley and sophomore outside hitter Jayda Schober lead the way for the Vikings as honorable mention all-conference picks a year ago.

Riley gives Kimball a luxury he has seldom had in his several years as head coach—continuity at the setter position.

“Shay, if she didn’t have such great hands, could bounce from position to position,” Kimball said. “Having that stability is nice. When I first started, it seemed like each year we had a different setter. To have her for back-to-back years is nice.”

Schober and fellow sophomore Kylie Skrzypchak give Parker a pair of formidable front-row players, presumably for years to come. Senior Rachel Van Beek is another returning starting hitter, and senior middle Tina Shelton returns as an athletic player that opponents must always keep an eye on.

Junior Jenna Gackstatter is expected to join the hitting fray, while Carlie Curtis and Emma Perry will step up and bolster Parker’s defense.

Other players possibly stepping into bigger varsity roles are senior Lexi Walters, juniors Grace Williams and Jasmyn Demrow and sophomores Brooke Payne.

Kimball said the Vikings have experimented early with a new offense that can include three middle hitters and two outside hitters.

“It gives us a chance to maximize the athletic ability of Tina,” Kimball said. “When you get a player of her caliber, you don’t want to have her on the bench, but you also need to find a way to do it without pulling our libero off, either.”

With a veteran lineup and a fresh offense, the Vikings will see if they can break into the top half of the Big Eight Conference.

“We’re a slightly undersized team, which we’ve seen in the past,” Kimball said. “I’m not sure how the wins and losses will pan out, but I think we’ll take another step forward in terms of quality of play.”

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