Western High School brought back one of its own to start the 2019 season earlier this year.

After working as the assistant coach at Northwestern High School for a few years, Jessica (Ronk) Oliver is back in her alma mater for her first season as a head coach.

“I helped Lorri Schuler (Northwestern’s head coach) for a few years like right out of high school, and then she brought me back last year to help out. So, it kind of re-sparked that whole excitement of coaching and being back around the game of volleyball,” said Oliver.

The 1993 Western graduate was a three-star athlete for the Panthers, playing four years varsity in volleyball, basketball, and softball. Upon graduation, Oliver attended Ball State University as a walk-on for the Cardinals’ softball team. She later transferred to Indiana Wesleyan University where she played volleyball for two years.

While Oliver was in high school, she found that she really enjoyed the relationships she built with her coaches. She believes coaches are an influential part of their players’ lives and that was why she took the job at Western — to be a stepping stone and push the players onto bigger and better things.

Last year, the Lady Panthers ended its season with an impressive 25-5 record. In recent years, it has been a building process for the program, going 18-14 in 2017, 17-17 in 2016, 14-18 in 2015, and 12-18 in 2014, after only winning five games in 2013. Oliver looks to continue the success of the 2018 season.

“We have a great returning group,” Oliver said. “They had a terrific season last year. Our goals for this year are going to be to continue pretty much where they left off and maybe take it up to the next step. We have seven juniors and two seniors, so we have a good core group of girls. Volleyball is their thing, so we’re pretty excited about what’s coming.”

Official practice for the Lady Panthers began Monday. Oliver was announced as coach in the middle of June, so she felt she was a little behind in prepping for the upcoming season. However, after meeting the team and having great turnouts at open gyms this summer, she felt confident the girls will be ready.

“I believe we’re going to give anybody that’s across the net from us a run,” Oliver said. “I think that my team has heart. They want to be there, and they are competitive. So, I think that anybody that steps on the court with us, it’s a game.”

Western Athletic Director Joshua Larsh commented on Oliver’s hire.

“(We’re) excited to welcome back Jessica Oliver as our varsity volleyball coach. Jessica’s energy and passion for Panther athletics are great fits to continue building on the recent success of the volleyball team,” Larsh said.

The Lady Panthers will face Pioneer High School in the scrimmage at home on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m.