By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Numbers could have told the story.
Awards and postseason honors, too.
But honestly, one play encapsulates Jonni Parker’s entire 2016 volleyball season.
With the Miami East Vikings riding an eight-point run in the fifth game of the Division III state championship match against Tuscarawas Valley, Parker made a diving, one-handed save near her team’s own bench, somehow managing to send the ball over her back and over the net to keep it in bounds. She landed hard on the Nutter Center floor in the process, but still managed to get up and race back to the net — and with perfect timing, too, getting there just in time to stuff a kill attempt by the Trojans to give the Vikings an insurmountable nine-point lead, helping the Vikings put the finishing touches on a five-set victory and giving the team its third state title since 2011.
“If there’s one play that epitomizes Jonni Parker, it’s that one,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said after the match. “It’s that weird, out of system play, where she makes a diving play with one arm to keep it alive, then somehow she gets back up and gets back into position and gets the stuff at the net.”
Peterson filmed the play with his cell phone from the bench and tweeted out a video of it that night. The video was retweeted hundreds of times and picked up by sites like MaxPreps.com, spreading it even farther.
“Yeah, I think we’ve all seen that video a million times by now,” Peterson said later that week. “It went from Sophie (Jacomet), then Gabrielle (Hawkins) had a bit of a misplay, but then Jonni pulls a Superman move out of nowhere to save it.”
Anytime the Vikings needed a clutch save, a perfect set-up or big putaway, Parker was there to deliver. And by being the undisputed leader of a state championship team, Parker earned the right to be called the Troy Daily News Girls Athlete of the Year for the 2016-17 school year.
One play might not be convincing for everyone, though — but really, the doubters should go find it online and see if it doesn’t change their mind — but numbers don’t lie.
Parker — only a junior at Miami East — had a monstrous year as the focal point of the offense. She piled up an astounding 494 kills on the season, which would put her at the 26th-most in a single season on the OHSAA’s records, and her 161 service aces would put her at fourth on the OHSAA’s single-season list. Offense wasn’t all she did, though, as she had a strong all-around season by adding 64 blocks, 169 digs and dished out 337 assists.
And while Parker averaging 16.5 kills per match on the season and led the Vikings to a seventh consecutive undefeated championship season in the Cross County Conference, the postseason was where she truly came alive. She topped the 20-kill mark in five of the Vikings’ eight tournament matches, including a season-high 27 kills in their district final victory over Roger Bacon.
From the regional final on, Parker was especially on fire. She had 26 kills in the Vikings’ win over Utica, and then she had 20 in a vengeance-fueled win over Gilmour Academy — the team that knocked Miami East out in the state semifinal round the previous season. And in the state championship match against Tuscarawas Valley, Parker had 24 kills to lead the way one final time.
After all of that, Parker was named the CCC Player of the Year, as well as the District 9 Player of the year, and she earned a spot on the All-Ohio first team.
Her accomplishments also garnered the notice of one of NCAA Division I’s biggest programs, Penn State. The Nittany Lions have won seven national championships since 1999, including four straight from 2007-10 and back-to-back titles in 2013-14 — meaning that following her senior season, Parker will be right at home, joining a team with a championship legacy.
And even though she’s the leader of the team, she’s always humble and quick to talk about everyone but herself — whether it’s her own teammates, or it’s the Vikings’ legacy itself.
“We all grew up watching those teams, those girls, go to the state championship match and win it all. And now we’ve become those girls,” Parker said after the state title match. “It took everybody for us to get here, too, especially some of our younger players like (freshmen) Gabrielle (Hawkins) and Sophie (Jacomet) stepping up this weekend for us to send our seniors out like this.”
Statistics-wise, Parker currently has 1,248 kills, 763 assists, 352 aces and 564 digs for her career — but the most important number to her is the amount of state titles. And while she’s already cemented herself as one of the best players to come through the Vikings’ program, the only question left is whether she’ll add a second state championship to her resume during her senior season this fall.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.