Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

SPORTS >>Senior leaves her mark

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

It has been a long and very distinguished road for Sylvan Hills senior volleyball standout Megan Gwatney. Gwatney has earned the rarest of accolades during her stint on the Lady Bears’ varsity team, with three All-Conference and three All-State awards from her sophomore through senior years. She will represent Hillside this summer at the state all-star volleyball match in Fayetteville before reporting to college in Midland, Texas.

Her signing to the Lady Chaps came last week. It marked the first volleyball signing for Sylvan Hills High School since Traci Buie signed with Westark (now UA-Fort Smith) 10 years ago.

Gwatney, the younger of two children for Glen and Connie Gwatney, discovered volleyball during physical education classes while in grade school, and decided to try the sport on an intermural level when she reached junior high school. Her abilities really began to flourish once she reached high school, a foundation in which she would use to build one of the biggest reputations as a volleyball competitor in the Pulaski County area.

She also built a reputation as a consummate team player and floor leader. Always a steady and strong effort, as well as the vocal support giver when things get rough on the floor.

“She is just the kind of kid every coach loves to have,” Lady Bear volleyball coach Harold Treadway said. “She gives everything all the time. She practices just like she plays an does everything that is asked of her. If I had six Megan Gwatneys I’d have a championship team.”

Gwatney closed out her tenure with the Lady Bears on a strong during the 2007 season, as she led Sylvan Hills to a runner-up finish in the 6A-East Conference behind Marion, earning a bye in the first round of the state tournament. The Lady Bears were unceremoniously beaten by Texarkana during the first round of the tournament to take an unexpected early exit after being coined as one of the potential sleepers for the championship.

Gwatney says the memory of that match is somewhat disappointing, but that the Lady Bears made enough good memories over the three years she was on the team to absorb one sour note.

“We were very disappointed after that match,” Gwatney said. “We all kind of wished that we could have gone right back out there and play all over again, because we did so bad. I don’t know if it was because of the trip down there, or what it was, but it looked like none of us had played a game of volleyball ever.”

Gwatney was also a part of the Lady Bears’ softball team through her sophomore and junior years, but will take the coming spring season off to enjoy her last few weeks at school. Her plans for the future have been in place for quite sometime, according to Gwatney.

“I’ve always loved kids,” Gwatney said. “I’ve always wanted to become a teacher. Initially, I wanted to teach elementary school and work with younger kids. But once I got into volleyball, I started liking it more and more, until I decided that I wanted to be a volleyball coach.”

Megan is not the only star of her family. Older brother Austin is currently a sophomore at Arkansas Tech, where he is an integral part of the Wonderboys’ baseball program. Megan says the support that both she and Austin received from their parents during their formative years made a tremendous impact on the siblings.

“They’ve always been really supportive of us,” Gwatney said. “They were always going with either me or Austin to games.
When we both played, my dad would go to Austin’s game, and my mom would go to mine. They’ve never missed a game I’ve been in; if they both couldn’t come, at least one of them would be there, but both of them have been to most.”

Her support doesn’t end at her residence. Gwatney’s talents really took shape under the tutelage Treadway. Treadway, now in his 11th season as head coach of the Lady Bears, says Gwatney’s talents and contributions have been unmatched in the program.

“She has been an absolutely super individual to have,” Treadway said. “She’s always upbeat, she was elected team captain by her teammates, and she made All State the three years that she played varsity. Sometimes when we were playing, she would be hitting the ball so well and putting on such a good show that I thought about stopping my coaching duties so I could go buy a ticket and watch.”

As for her class, Gwatney says the closeness reflected at any SHHS sporting event is not contrived in any way, but genuine to a group of senior who have collectively set a high bar in many sports for graduating classes to come.

“Our senior class has just grown up together,” Gwatney said. “Everyone is real close, because we have all known each other so long. We’ve always gone to each other’s games to watch each other play, and have always supported each other.”