Sims hoping to provide young Hawks with emotional boost

Skyline High School's Jessica Simms will lead the Hawks in volleyball this year. Rich Cooley//Daily

WOODSTOCK – Jessica Sims enjoyed a bit of an emergence on the volleyball court last season.

Long the possessor of an outgoing and outspoken personality, according to Hawks head coach Erika Berry, Sims unleashed that infectious energy upon her teammates during her junior season in 2015. On the court, the setter consistently jumpstarted Skyline’s offense. On the bench, Sims became a vocal motivator. She claims credit for the “rally towel” movement that began last fall, a trend that began on the Hawks’ bench and eventually spread into the school’s student section during matches.

Skyline rode that energy to eight wins in 2015, a nice rebound from a one-win season two years ago, and Sims will certainly reprise that role as the Hawks’ unequivocal emotional leader this season, although with one major difference. Last season, Sims was playing her part behind five seniors. This fall, as one of three seniors alongside Nikea Whitmore and Allison Crescienzi, and with six players new to the varsity level – including five sophomores – all of Skyline’s young eyes are on Sims.

“It’s like 10 times more important,” Sims said of her leadership role following Skyline’s scrimmage at Central last Thursday. “You can really tell when (the young players are) out on the court and they mess up, they instantly look at me and I’m like, ‘It’s fine. It’s fine. Calm down. You can do it, just adjust this and you’ll be fine.’ They’re really getting the hang of it really quick and it’s really impressive.”

Sims’ ability to get those underclassmen into their comfort zone this fall could prove to be a critical factor in whether or not Skyline can build off the momentum from 2015. Sims relishes that responsibility, and she said the Hawks’ experienced players are making a focused effort on cheering their younger teammates, even those playing at the junior varsity level. But as Berry points out, Sims isn’t afraid to offer tough love, as well.

“They look to that critique from her, they look to that support and encouragement from her, so she can be both sides,” Berry said. “She can get on them, she can be hard on them but they know where it’s coming from. It’s nice to have that person on the court. Somebody has to do it.”

Sims’ impact on Skyline’s program has gone beyond her motivational skills, however. Last season, she earned the Hawks’ only first team all-Conference 28 honors when she tallied 283 assists, 29 aces and 75 digs. This fall, Sims has her sights set higher.

“It’s more like a challenge, like I wanna go out and be bigger and better. Come from a good junior year to an even better senior year, and really just make sure people know it wasn’t just one good year, that it’s like a constant thing,” Sims said. “So I mean its just a challenge (to see) if I can beat it and how much farther I can go with it, so it’s fun.”

In order for Sims to exceed to those 2015 assist totals, Skyline will have to get some offensive production from some of its new faces. The Hawks lost three of their top four kill leaders from a season ago, although junior Alexis Grim is back after leading the team with 142 kills last fall.

Grim, the beneficiary of many of Sims’ assists last year, said Skyline is in good hands with Sims initiating the offense.

“She really gets us going, gets us hype. She’s the reason we’re so into it and when one person falls she’s always there to pick us back up,” Grim said.

“They really don’t know what goes into setting,” she continued of Sims’ value on the court. “So much goes into it, so much time and effort, and they get so much crap for what they do because if they have one bad set it’s like they’ve ruined the whole play. They really don’t get enough credit, Jessica especially doesn’t get enough (attention) for what she does.”

Of the newcomers this fall, Berry said sophomore Shyla Schmitz has been “awesome for us” so far in the preseason.

“She came on so timid and then now she’s just really aggressive at the net, and we need it, definitely,” Berry said. “The blocking aspect, she’s got a lot to offer and I hope that she keeps stepping up.”

Berry praised the versatility of this year’s roster and said she’s tinkered with playing many of those players in both the front and back rows, and she had yet to settle on a starting lineup last Thursday, just a few days ahead of Monday night’s season opener at home against Eastern View.

“I’m just hoping that they can pull that confidence together,” Berry said of the Hawks, who hosted a first-round conference tournament game last season. “We always start very rocky. And for them to finally start believing that Skyline volleyball has something to offer. They came out this summer, they worked hard. It’s showing. We’ve been conditioning, preparing ourselves for this and this group has a lot of potential.”

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