Female Athlete of the Week: Energetic Sims gave Hawks season a spark

Jessica Sims Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline volleyball coach Erika Berry says Hawks junior setter Jessica Sims has always had a “carefree, loud personality.” Even so, it took a few years for that personality to show up on the court.

As a freshman on Skyline’s varsity volleyball team in 2013, Sims was content to just “go along with it,” she said, allowing the seniors to serve their natural roles as on-court motivators. Last season, a one-win campaign for Skyline, Sims said the Hawks lacked the chemistry to complement her energetic personality.

But then came Sims’ junior season this fall.

“After last season, one of our main goals was to have fun on the court. Jessica made sure we had fun at all times, winning or losing,” Berry said in an email Tuesday. “She was hyped before games and enthusiastic during the game. Her energy was contagious and (helped) the other girls stay motivated. She even started the rally towel movement, which carried into our fan section.”

Sims’ ability to rally her teammates was put on display during the Hawks’ Conference 28 quarterfinal round against Culpeper County on Nov. 2. After Skyline fell into an early 1-0 hole following the first set, Sims strung together a couple of key service runs while consistently feeding the Hawks’ hitters, eventually finishing with 11 aces and 22 assists as Skyline came back for a 3-1 win.

Sims, who added five aces and 12 assists in a season-ending 3-0 loss to top-seeded Brentsville in the conference semifinals last Wednesday, has been named The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for Nov. 1-7.

“We knew going into Culpeper that we really needed to keep the girls up and make sure that everyone (had) positive mindsets because we knew we had to win this game,” said Sims, a first team all-Conference 28 selection. “… I think I got most of my energy knowing that a lot of the team does depend on me because I am a setter and I go first, and how I decide to go out and set everything up is, like, how the game really goes.”

Despite an emphasis on starting quickly, Skyline found itself in the early deficit, and it wasn’t until the Hawks reeled off a 9-1 run midway through the second set that they took their first lead of the match. Sims served three straight aces and assisted on four consecutive kills during the run, but it was more than her play on the court that sparked Skyline, Berry said after the game.

Even when Sims was on the bench she was vocally pushing her teammates along, a job she said she’s shared with junior Nikea Whitmore and sophomore Alexis Grim to form a trio that goes “absolutely crazy” when their energetic personalities combine on the volleyball court.

“I think most of the time we get too nervous and we get in our heads, so if me, Nikea and Grim can hop up there and be goofy for five minutes they just calm down and we go out there and play like we know we can play,” Sims said. “So I think … how much energy we really have and how well we keep it up is just really important to us.”

Similar to the second set, Sims gave the Hawks another valuable jolt from the service line in the third game, serving 13 consecutive points – including six aces – to turn a 14-9 deficit into a 22-14 lead.

“I have been working a lot more making sure my serves are more consistent just because I am the first server that goes out,” Sims said, “and most of the time I come in when there’s like one or two points left in the game, so I really know the team is depending on me to get my serves over.”

And though Sims didn’t do much of the attacking, she was still a critical piece to the Hawks’ offense this season, as she was a reliable source of assists for a balanced Skyline attack that featured a handful of players capable of putting the ball on the floor, a team trait Sims called “relieving” for a setter.

Sims led the Hawks with 283 assists this fall.

“I’ve repeatedly told her she runs our offense and she takes it seriously,” Berry said.

Sims, who noted the Hawks (8-14) are proud of what they accomplished this season, especially considering the team’s struggles a year ago, said her biggest growth as a player since joining the varsity program has been in her attitude. Sims admits to being cocky as the only freshman on Skyline’s varsity team in 2013.

“Being a junior I realized how good I actually had to be to make it and I think I really settled down this year with my skills and realized how good I was and how I could actually use them to help other players be better,” she said.

Berry said Sims has “definitely impressed me this season.”

“She has matured and shown signs of a leader,” Berry said. “A lot of the younger girls look up to her and find reassurance from her. Also, she is a better decision maker on the court. She has learned where to put the ball in critical situations.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com