Lear looks to revitalize Lady Devil volleyball program
West Memphis adds former SEC coach this summer in hopes of writing a new chapter this season By Billy Woods
WM School District The West Memphis Lady Devil volleyball program got a huge shot in the arm recently with the hiring of former SEC volleyball player and Metro coach Erica Lear.
A native of Indianapolis, Lear was a two-sport standout in high school, landing a basketball scholarship offer from the likes of Michigan State as well as a volleyball offer from the University of Tennessee.
'My recruiting experience was great,' said Lear. 'It was nice to have a lot of options. It was a lot different back then. Recruiting was not done electronically, but it was really cool.'
After initially desiring to play both volleyball and basketball at Tennessee, she settled on volleyball, where she played for the Lady Vols from 1998-2001.
Lear's coaching career includes a volunteer assistant coaching position at Emory University, a fulltime assistant job at the University of Memphis and three years as an assistant at Tennessee.
So it begs the question: Why high school volleyball?
'I just wanted to get into youth volleyball,' Lear said, succinctly. 'I knew I still wanted to coach, but I wanted to work with youth, anywhere from ages 5-18.1 just wanted to coach in a different capacity, I guess.'
Lear's first foray into youth volleyball coaching, however, was with Memphis Metro's club volleyball program in Bartlett.
She spent her time running clinics and doing individual lessons as well as a couple of competitive teams she coached the last two years.
'A couple of my West Memphis families who were involved with Metro asked me if I knew anyone who would want the high school job here,' Lear explained. 'I just said, 'I'd love that job.'' And so here she is.
The Lady Devil program, which was restarted in 2006 after more than a 30-year absence, has just two winning seasons with 2008 being the apex as that Lady Devil squad went 24-8, coming within one point of advancing to the Class 6A semifinals of the state tournament.
But recently, the program has been in need of a fresh shot of adrenaline.
'This is a perfect opportunity for me,' she added.
Lear is already familiar with a few of the West Memphis players, both junior high and high school.
'The ones I've worked with are athletic and very hard working,' Lear said. 'I was thrilled they were in the program because I knew it was something I could use for familiarity sake.'
Lear began working with her current squad during the summer.
'We definitely have some young talent,' she said. 'We have some athleticism and we have a freshman setter in Presley Crader. I've already found out this younger group of players love to win and they are competitive.'
The Lady Devils had an opportunity this summer to see the competition on this side of the state at the Arkansas State team camp.
'We were able to scrim- mage early this summer to kind of gauge where we are, but our weaknesses were exploited so we could see what we need to work on,' Lear stated. 'We held our own. We won a few, lost a few, but we learned a lot and we've focused on those areas.'
Among the starting players for West Memphis this season are junior middle blocker Chloe Kauffman, senior libero Anna Nelson, senior defensive specialist Tommie Grace Prater, sophomore Ta'nya Burnett, sophomore Delanie Johnson, sophomore Cymiya Stokes and senior Cameron Aaron.
'I think the biggest thing for us right now is to change our mindset,' said Lear. 'This program has been successful and it's been unsuccessful.
Winning is contagious, but losing is too. I think the last couple of years they haven't been as successful as they could have been. My expectations are not what they are used to.'
Lady Devil senior volieyballers include (from left) Caliana Freeman, Madison Wann, Tommie Grace Prater, Anna Nelson, Madison King and Cameron Aaron
Photo by Billy Woods