BY JOEL SENSENIG | MIRROR SPORTS — Anthony Wayne senior volleyball players Jillian Grant and Emily Ray were among nearly a dozen Generals to sign their national letters of intent to play collegiately this past winter.
Grant racked up the honors in her senior year: Northern Lakes League and District 7 Player of the Year and the Old Newsboys Volleyball Player of the Year.
She will take her talents in the fall to Valparaiso University in Indiana, where she plans to study either speech pathology or business.
Ending her AW career with nearly 900 kills, Grant turned into an adept all-around player, finishing near the team lead in digs as well in her senior campaign.
“She will be sorely missed,” said AW coach Norm McGhee, who first met Grant as a 12-year-old in private lessons. “Working with her was just a pleasure. She’s a very coachable, nonchalant kid.
“She’s very quiet, but she does everything she’s asked to do. She’s a total team player and gives credit where it’s due. When she was 12, there was just something about her. She just has that drive, but she’s like a silent killer. Having her play all the way around was a bonus.”
Grant said the decision to attend Valparaiso came relatively easily after making her first visit.
“Valparaiso was a place I could see myself succeeding in both academics and athletics,” she said. “The school was a good size for me, not too far from home and on my first visit I made a connection with the team.”
Grant said she wants to be a more confident player as she moves her game to the collegiate ranks.
“In order to compete at the next level, I need to work on my confidence – the realization that I am able to play at a high level with older girls,” she said. “Vocalization and leadership will also be really important going to compete at Valpo.”
Grant said she learned a lot about the game from McGhee over the years.
“On the court, he always emphasized being aggressive and enjoying ourselves. He always tried to make practice and games fun for the team, whether that was ordering us pizza or rewarding us with a day off after a big win.”
Ray signed her letter of intent to play at Lourdes University in Sylvania, where she will major in nursing.
McGhee said Ray, with whom he has worked since she was 14, is a pure athlete.
“There’s a kid that started out quiet, but she was always a pure athlete,” he said. “The girl’s all over the floor. She wants to be in on every play and never runs out of gas.”
During McGhee’s three years with her at AW, Ray totaled 557 kills at a pace that grew with each season.
Ray is an aggressive hitter with an impressive vertical leap who will likely make an impact on Lourdes’ roster at some point, McGhee said.
“Emily’s another team player who’s very coachable,” he said. “I’ll miss her because I worked with her the past five years and I developed a bond with her.”
Ray said she had Lourdes in the back of her mind for several years.
“I chose to go to Lourdes because we did a team camp with the coaches my sophomore year,” she said. “I instantly knew I would be a good fit for their program while working with the coaches and some of the girls they brought along.
“Lourdes has a great nursing program and that is my intended major, so it worked out great. I always wanted to go away for school, but when I visited Lourdes and met the people there, I fell in love and I’m beyond excited for the next four years.”
Ray said she wants to work on all aspects of her game but is excited to continue her playing career in the sport she loves.
“There’s a lot I have to work on to make it at the next level,” she said. “I chose to play volleyball in college because I’ve been playing for 10-plus years. I love the sport and get better each year. Being a college athlete is hard work, but worth it.”
Ray said she cherished her playing career at Anthony Wayne and especially playing for McGhee.
“The past four years at Anthony Wayne have been very memorable,” she said. “Coach Norm is the best coach I have had the privilege to play for.
“Playing this sport has helped me not only gain volleyball skills, but also skills such as leadership, determination and teamwork. I would not be the person I am today without this sport and the girls who have been by my side along the way.”