By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Miami East’s Jonni Parker and Kyndall Hellyer expected to be doing something else this week.
Instead, the Viking volleyball team’s senior leaders solidified their plans for the future.
Parker and Hellyer both signed their national letters of intent to continue their volleyball careers in college during a ceremony Wednesday night at Miami East High School, with Parker planning to attend Penn State University and Hellyer heading to Tiffin University.
The Vikings entered the season as the defending Division III state champions, having qualified for the state tournament each of the past two seasons. But they were defeated in five sets in the regional final this season, ending their season — and high school careers — one week early.
“I thought about that,” Hellyer said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we could have been in practice today and then went to do this.’ But it’s been a fun four years together, six including JO volleyball.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better season,” Parker said. “All four years of high school and growing up with these girls has been a pleasure, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
For the Vikings, though, it’s been a phenomenal run.
After the team won back-to-back state championships in 2011 and 2012, the Vikings were defeated in the regional semifinal in 2013 and then during Parker and Hellyer’s freshman year in 2014. In 2015, the Vikings reached the state semifinal round, and last season the team won its third state title in the past seven seasons.
Miami East coach Dan Peterson, who was an assistant in 2015 and has been the head coach for the past two seasons, knew exactly how to describe being able to coach a team that included Parker and Hellyer.
“What has it been like to coach those two … lucky? That’s one way to put it,” Peterson said with a chuckle. “It’s not very often you come across a talent like them, and then when you have two of them at the same time, it makes you look pretty good as a coach. And they’ve certainly done that the last couple years.
“But they’ve also been in my classroom a lot as my student aids, and I think that’s been the more rewarding part, getting to know them as people and watch them grow up and turn into the awesome young women that they are now.”
And now they’ll both be moving on to the next level.
Parker had been planning to attend Ohio State since her freshman year, but once her junior season ended, she began to wonder.
“I just felt that I wasn’t comfortable there,” Parker said. “A lot of people commit too early, and I just needed to open up my choices and see what else was out there. That’s what I did, and I discovered that I liked Penn State. It was a better opportunity for me and fit me best.”
And why Penn State?
The Nittany Lions are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division I at 24-1 with five regular season matches to go. The program has won seven national championships in its history — six in the past decade beginning in 2007, with the last coming in 2014. The team also has won 16 Big Ten titles, with the last of those coming in 2013.
“One, they’re the best team in the nation. That’s hard to beat,” Parker said with a laugh. “And when I went on my visit, the first thing I noticed was the atmosphere in the gym and the girls and their drive to get better. They’re willing to compete and be in the gym day in and day out, working, helping each other and just keeping on each other to get better and better. That was what I was looking for. I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
And Hellyer signed to attend nearby Tiffin University, a Division II school that plays in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. In the current season, the Dragons are 19-12 with one regular season match to play before the conference tournament begins.
“I was contacted after our state championship match junior year, and I just kind of brushed it off,” Hellyer said. “I did more research into it, though. The school itself is small and everybody knows everybody. I like that kind of environment. Also? I’m a mile away from my brother (Conner Hellyer, who attends Heidelberg University, which is also located in Tiffin).”
But with their high school volleyball careers now over, the two Vikings now are anticipating an entirely new challenge.
“I’m looking forward to graduating — especially since I’m done in January,” Parker said. “I only have seven weeks to go — not that I’m counting or anything. But I’m excited for that and ready to move on to the next chapter and see what it has in store.”
“I’m excited to compete at the next level,” Hellyer said. “I’ve never felt this big of a challenge. I’m ready to take it on and see what I can do.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.