Shakopee junior Rachel Kilkelly isn’t one to back down from a challenge, even if it means doing a little bit of everything on the volleyball court.

“I want to be a well-rounded player, and stay on the court the entire time,” Kilkelly said.

The Gophers recruit has added setting to her repertoire this season. It’s a position Kilkelly hasn’t played in a long time.

“Rachel has continued to pass [serve receive] and play defense at the same rate as the past, but now add the new challenge of setting for the first time since she was 12,” Sabers coach Matt Busch said. “In this role, she has picked up the tremendous nuances of running the offense as if she has done it for years.”

She has primarily concentrated on being an outside hitter and defensive specialist (libero) the previous three seasons as a member of the Sabers varsity squad. She was a South Suburban all-conference honorable mention selection as an eighth-grader.

At 5-9, Kilkelly is expected to be a defensive specialist in college.

“I really like passing the ball,” Kilkelly said. “I love the team aspect of the game. It takes everybody working together to be successful.”

That is exactly what Shakopee is trying to accomplish with its standout being the focal point.

“While primarily playing defensive specialist for her elite club team, she apparently found some fresh legs, and is hitting like she is on a mission,” Busch said. “Her sheer athleticism is her biggest asset as she makes all parts of the game easy.”

Teammate Maddie Wherley, also a junior, has been close friends with Kilkelly since they were 5 years old. She marvels at her sidekick’s talent.

“Her defensive skills are amazing,” Wherley said referring to Kilkelly, who is coming off a sophomore season in which she had 289 digs, 178 kills and 38 blocks.

“When she hits the ball it always seems to find the court. She does it all.”

Kilkelly, first on her team in nearly every statistical category, has led the Class 3A, No. 7-ranked Sabers to a 7-1 start. Their only setback came at the hand of No. 1-ranked Eagan in the championship match of the Shakopee Invitational.

“We’ve played pretty well so far,” Kilkelly said. “I really like our team chemistry, even with a lot of new people.”

The Sabers only have three seniors on their 13-player roster. They have three sophomores and one freshman along with six juniors.

“Our team has a new feel with the younger players,” said Wherley, the squad’s libero with 168 digs a year ago. “We are energetic and fiery. We all have a passion to win.”

The Sabers are coming off a 20-10 season in 2016 and a runner-up finish to Prior Lake in the Section 2 tournament. Shakopee has seen its season come to an end each of the past three years with a loss to Prior Lake, twice falling in the section finals.

“We are in one of the toughest sections in the state,” Wherley said. “It’s not easy for us to get to the state tournament.”

The Sabers’ last appearance there was in 2012, when they finished fourth.

“It would be huge to make it to the state tournament,” Kilkelly said. “We are one of the most competitive volleyball states in the country.

“I have two years left, and would like to make it to the state tournament. It’s not going to be easy.”

Wherley couldn’t agree more.

“We want to get to the state tournament, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Wherley said. “That is the ultimate goal.”