May 17, 2009
MABEN -- Wanda McPhail admitted Friday morning she was the lucky one.
It was easy to see why McPhail used that word after listening to her read the resumes of Kaley Allen and Jessica Halterman.
After reading an impressive set of accomplishments, McPhail watched as the East Webster High School academic and athletic standouts signed national letters of intent to play tennis at Meridian Community College.
McPhail, who coaches the men''s nd women''s teams at MCC, knows what she is getting in student-athletes from East Webster High. EWHS graduates Dana and Meredith Vance were McPhail''s first signees at MCC. EWHS Athletic Director and football coach Jimmy Carden''s daughter, Amanda, was a member of the first team McPhail took to the national tournament.
It doesn''t surprise McPhail that Allen and Halterman have strong academic, athletic, and extra-curricular backgrounds. She said they epitomize the kind of young men and women she tries to bring to MCC.
"There is a reason student comes before athlete (in the word student-athlete)," McPhail said. "We are there to help them prepare for life. At this level, they are not going to be professional tennis players. I recognize that. I want them to be good students, and with the resumes they bring I feel like they''re adding to a program that already stresses academics."
McPhail said she recruited Allen and Halterman at the same time, and was very impressed with both players'' athleticism.
With only one women''s player returning from the this season''s team, McPhail said both players have the potential to see a lot of playing time next season.
Allen, who attended Oak Hill Academy from seventh to 10th grade before transferring to East Webster, is a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was involved in the National Honor Society and the Anchor Club. She has a 3.0 grade-point average, is in the top 15 of her graduating class, received her first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon-Do in 2001, and was a member of the girls basketball team at East Webster High.
"I am excited just to sign," Allen said. "I guess you could say it is a relief. It is a happy day for me because I get the opportunity to play for coach McPhail and go somewhere that I will be a member of a winning program."
Allen competed at No. 1 girls doubles and finished the season with a 15-1 record. She teamed with Sealy Smith at the individual state tournament and took second place to a team from Natchez High.
On the junior tennis circuit, Allen is ranked No. 22 in the 18s in the state, and has been ranked as high as No. 10.
Allen said she wasn''t sure when or if she would sign with MCC because she wasn''t certain that McPhail was recruiting her and Halterman. She said she visited the school about a month ago and felt it was the place for her.
"I had a few more options, had checked them out, and just about made my mind up when Jessie asked me to go to Meridian and check it out with her," Allen said. "I just fell in love with the campus, the housing, and the coach."
Halterman is an honor student (3.85-3.9 GPA) who will be salutatorian of the East Webster High''s Class of 2008-09.
On the field, Halterman was a member of the cheerleading and the fast-pitch softball teams that each won four consecutive state titles. She finished her pitching career with 101 victories with the fast-pitch team.
On the court, Halterman teamed this season with freshman Jamison Allred (13-0 record) and went on to win the individual mixed doubles title at the state championship. The three titles this season give her 10 for her high school career.
Halterman said she chose to play tennis in college in part because it is a sport she can play for the rest of her life. She said she never has had a lot of time to concentrate on tennis and is anxious to see how good she can be now that she is focusing on one sport.
"I can set my goals high and I hope these two years at MCC I get a lot better than I am now and, hopefully, I can go to a university," Halterman said. "Now that I will be able to concentrate on tennis and practice it all of the time I think I will get a lot better."
If that''s the case, McPhail will consider herself even luckier.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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