PORT ARTHUR -- If the players making up Lamar State College-Port Arthur’s first volleyball team are as excited to play as Jessica Callahan is to lead them, the Seahawks’ first foray into the sport this fall should be one to watch closely.
“All of these girls are athletic, and the one thing I really liked was their excitement about being part of history,” said Callahan, who was hired as head coach in January, after leading Humble’s Atascocita High School to four straight playoff appearances.
“They’re excited about starting the program, proud to be the first volleyball team from Lamar State College-Port Arthur.”
The Seahawks open preseason practice Aug. 1 and kick off the new program’s first season Aug. 22-23 at the Tyler College tournament. They will compete in Region XIV, the NJCAA Division 1 conference that includes defending national champion Blinn College and four of the nation’s top 13-ranked squads from last year.
A pair of Mid-County players join two sets of twins among Callahan’s first 13 signees.
Hailey Zampini, a Port Neches-Groves graduate who was District 20-4A’s Setter of the Year in 2012, was already attending LSC-PA when she came to the first tryout for the team and became the program’s first signee. From Nederland, Callahan added 2014 grad Kendal Savarino, a libero (defensive specialist).
Twins Ma’Shell Shears and Me’Shell Shears from Houston’s Alief Hastings High School and Alana Ailles and Lauren Ailles from Baytown Lee High School should give the Seahawks some built-in chemistry.
It won’t be the first time Callahan has coached twins, though. Heck, in taking her first head coaching job at her alma mater, Class 5A Alvin High School, she even coached her two younger sisters.
“Nothing could be as hard as that,” says the former University of Houston player who has never worked as an assistant coach. “I learned a lot and it was a great experience as far as helping shape me as a coach.”
Other players who will be learning from Callahan this season are All-District 20-4A middle blocker Erica Lewis of Livingston, All-District 19-4A hitter Lindsey Wetzel of Barbers Hill, All-District 21-3A player Kelby Sparks of Hardin-Jefferson, Academic All-Stater Kelsey Harmel of Burton, Jersey Village hitter Julia Mauer, middle blocker Kristina Merka of Crosby, a transfer from Victoria College, and hitter Jenna Markey from Brighton, Utah, the only out-of-state player so far.
Callahan says it was being owner of the H.I.T. volleyball academy in Houston that prepared her to recruit her first college team.
“In club volleyball, you have to recruit kids to play for your club,” she said. “And one thing you learn with recruiting is to reach out to your contacts. I really depended a lot this year on my contacts.”
Callahan credits those well-established volleyball connections with helping her attract a talented collection of prospects to a February tryout. She said half her new players attended that tryout.
“After going out recruiting and seeing the talent out there, we realized we had gotten a solid group at our tryout,” she said.
And now the hard part is the waiting until her players begin practice in August.
“We’re going to work hard to make the community proud,” Callahan said. “We’ll be in the gym doing everything we can to make that happen.”
2014 SEAHAWKS WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL ROSTER
Name Class School (Hometown)
Alana Ailles FR Lee HS (Baytown)
Lauren Ailles FR Lee HS (Baytown)
Kelsey Harmel FR Burton HS (Burton)
Erica Lewis FR Livingston HS (Livingston)
Jenna Markey FR Brighton HS (Brighton, Utah)
Julia Mauer FR Jersey Village HS (Jersey Village)
Kristina Merka SO Victoria College (Crosby)
Kendal Savarino FR Nederland HS (Nederland)
Me’Shell Shears FR Alief Hastings HS (Houston)
Ma’Shell Shears FR Alief Hastings HS (Houston)
Kelby Sparks FR Hardin-Jefferson HS (Nome)
Lindsey Wetzel FR Barbers Hill HS (Baytown)
Hailey Zampini SO Port Neches-Groves HS (Port Neches)