Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
MINFORD — Whether she’s on or off the volleyball court, you can most likely find Livi Shonkwiler with a smile on her face.
Shonkwiler’s sunny disposition is contagious. Her teammates and coaches rave about her positive attitude and she’s well-liked by even her fiercest of competitors.
But don’t get her likability confused with her will to win. When she’s competing, she takes no prisoners and leaves no exceptions. Winning catapults itself to the forefront of her complete focus.
This fall, now in her senior year, Shonkwiler and her Minford teammates are just hoping they have the chance to win. With COVID-19 continuing to ravage its way through the nation, the Falcons … alongside every other team in Ohio … are finding ways to get better, even in the most uncertain of times.
“This year has definitely been very different from the others and it hasn’t been the start to my senior year that I expected,” Shonkwiler said. “But we are really happy that we even get to, hopefully, have a season. As a team, we’ve been staying connected and when the gym doors are open, everyone is showing up and working hard just like every other preseason.”
Last season, Shonkwiler totaled 623 assists at her setter position alongside 299 digs, 35 aces and 38 kills. She reached the 1,000 assists plateau — she’ll enter this fall with 1,219 — and helped the Falcons win 12 matches and a sectional title.
When this year’s schedule begins, she’ll obviously be looking to build upon those totals. But she’s also zeroing in on becoming the best leader she can be, so her teammates know where to find the calm if there’s a storm.
“Last year, getting my 1,000th assist was definitely a highlight of my season and I couldn’t have done it without my team. [This year], I am focused on competing to my highest ability and taking care of the ball on offense while involving all my teammates,” she said. “Stepping up to continue leadership as well, is a focus I want to accomplish. When we focus on competing together as one, we’ll be able to do some really awesome things this season.”
As Shonkwiler sets the example to follow, there’s one teammate that will be paying closer attention than most — her youngest sister, Mya.
“Being able to play this season really means so much. As a freshman, you look forward to your senior year and with all of the uncertainty, I was nervous that my last year of volleyball with my friends would be cut short,” Shonkwiler said. “I’m looking forward to spending the season with my younger sister, who’s a freshman. I’m just so happy to be able to compete once again during my senior year and have a good season with my team.”
Shonkwiler’s bond with her sister is unbreakable. But the same could also be said about the Falcons as a whole.
Some teams simply go through the motions together as a unit. For Minford, it’s a bit different.
“I think our strongest attribute is that we are close on and off the court,” she said. “My teammates are my best friends and I believe that really helps in competing as one team and being able to build each other up and encourage each other.”
If the Falcons are to pass last year’s win total, and reach their team goals, they’ll have to do so without the likes of Maddie Slusher, Cassidy Lebrun and Makenzie Watters, who were all lost to graduation this past spring.
Replacing those three names presents an unquestioned challenge. But Shonkwiler has faith in her teammates and coaching staff to do just that.
“The loss of our seniors was a big hit, and definitely left some gaps to be filled. But as we practice and work on our goals, I can see players stepping up to fill those roles and better our team,” Shonkwiler said. “We have freshmen coming up that are working hard and they could fill those gaps as well.”
The Falcons were 7-9 in Southern Ohio Conference play last fall. They’ll be looking to improve upon that mark this season.
But more importantly, they’re simply focused on coming together as a group and reaching for the stars. With leaders like Livi Shonkwiler, that’s a much easier task to complete.
If the work ethic is there, anything can happen.
“[The SOC] is definitely a competitive conference,” Shonkwiler said. “It is full of some of the best players and teams in southern Ohio. We will continue working hard and we are up for the challenge. I’m excited for the season.”