Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

SPORTS >> Red Devils senior plays, juggles sports

Jessica Lanier is a three-year starter in volleyball, basketball and softball at Jacksonville High.

Leader sports writer

Anyone who follows Jacksonville athletics has seen her a few times.

The truth is, it’s hard not to notice Lady Red Devils senior Jessica Lanier.

Lanier, at an even 6 feet, towers over all of her teammates and most competitors, but it is her pivotal roles in three of the major sports at Jacksonville that gives her the most visibility.

Lanier began the fall as a third-year starter and the leading hitter/blocker for the Lady Red Devils volleyball team under coach Justine Rial. When volleyball season ends, Lanier will stay on the Devils Den court as the third-year starting low post for the basketball team under Katrina Mimms.

Once spring arrives, Lanier will head out to Field 6 at Dupree Park as a third-year starting pitcher for the Jacksonville softball team under longtime coach Tanya Ganey.

Lanier has earned all-conference status in all three sports, but the 17-year-old daughter of Rick and Audra Lanier considers herself a basketball player first and foremost.

Her career on the court began in first grade. She added softball to her lineup two years later at the persuasion of her mother.

Volleyball came a bit later.

Lanier attended grade school and junior high at Cabot, and transferred to Jacksonville at the start of her sophomore year. A chance encounter with then-Jacksonville volleyball coach Missy Reeves ended with a third sport added to Lanier’s resume.

“I was walking from basketball practice when coach Reeves called me over and asked me if I wanted to try out,” Lanier said. “I had not planned on playing, but I was the tallest girl out there, and it just kind of came natural. I’ve worked on it since then and it’s gotten a lot better.”

Things haven’t gone too badly in basketball, Lanier’s first love, either.

She is a two-time, all-6A-East Conference selection and finished the 2008-09 season averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game.

“One thing you have to like about her is that she comes out and practices the same way every day,” Mimms said. “She comes out and practices hard. She’s reliable, she’s dependable — she’s going to come out and give it her best effort. As far as work ethic, you can’t match it. She brings it every day.”

Lanier has had a few glances from various colleges, but got her first solid offer in the final week of September from junior college LSU-Eunice, of the Louisiana State system. LSU-Eunice offered Lanier a full, two-year basketball scholarship and, with her 3.2 grade-point average, Lanier has the option to pocket any additional academic assistance.

Mimms said Lanier is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the college front. With the Lady Red Devils expected to have one of their best seasons in decades, the coach believes more opportunities will be forthcoming, depending on the kind of senior season Lanier has.

“I don’t want to go to a D-I school and sit on the bench; I just want to play,” Lanier said. “That’s why I’m looking at the junior-college route. I would play both years, with the possibility of going from there to a four-year college.”

Lanier is interested in local schools Hendrix, UCA and Henderson State.

While athletics takes up a fair amount of her time, Lanier also enjoys the social Web site Facebook, and likes to hang out with her friends on weekends. She plans to pursue a teaching degree and possibly coach — at a certain level.

“I want to coach, but I don’t think I want to coach high school,” she said. “I want to coach junior high. I want to help kids develop their skills early.”

Rial, who was also a Jacksonville volleyball and softball player, not only coaches Lanier in the fall on the volleyball court, she has her in the spring as a softball assistant to Ganey.

“She comes out here and gives 100 percent every day,” Rial said. “I wouldn’t ask anything more of her. She’s a leader on and off the floor. People look up to her, and she knows it. She leaves everything out there on the court and on the field.”

The move from Cabot to Jacksonville has also helped Lanier flourish socially in a more diverse environment.

“It’s a completely different world,” Lanier said. “Coming from Cabot wherethere’s a total of four black kids, to Jacksonville, where they are over half the population here. At Cabot, they are very strict, and they are a big school. I feel better at Jacksonville. I wasn’t me until I came here. I wasn’t comfortable.”

The Lady Devils volleyball team is currently in a struggle to claim a playoff spot in the 6A state tournament at the end of October. But as volleyball hits its peak, Lanier is already preparing for the winter and basketball.

“The transition is actually during volleyball season,” Lanier said. “We practice basketball during and after school. I don’t feel like it’s a transition, it’s really just dropping one and focusing more on the other once volleyball is over.”

With a talented crop of underclassmen and three returning starters, the Lady Red Devils basketball team is in position to make its first state tournament appearance since well before Lanier donned her red-and-white, No. 44 jersey.

“I feel like this year is going to be the year,” Lanier said. “If there is any time when we can make it to state, it would be right now.”

May will mark the end of Lanier’s unique run as a three-sport star. Lanier said that, all things considered, she would not change anything, although she might slow the pace a bit.

“It’s already gone by so fast,” she said. “I can’t believe volleyball season is almost over. It feels like it just started. I thought it would go by a little bit slower where I could savor it a little bit, but every day keeps coming.”