Lady Bobcats land Ridgeland volleyball quartet

Among those on hand to see the Ridgeland High School quartet of Jesse Owens, Shanna Burk, Jamese Miller and Morgen Simmons sign with Georgia Northwestern were Ridgeland assistant coach Tanya Stinson, Georgia Northwestern head coach Amber Weaver and Ridgeland head coach April Lemonds. (Messenger photo/Scott Herpst)

New Georgia Northwestern volleyball coach Amber Weaver was hoping to make a splash with her first signing.

Instead, she made a cannonball-sized splash.

Weaver went to Ridgeland High School and plucked not one, not two, not three, but four players from the Lady Panthers' standout senior class.

Shanna Burk, Morgen Simmons, Jamese Miller and Jesse Owens, who were a part of two Region 6-AAAA championship teams in the past three seasons, will move their home base from Panther Gymnasium a few miles across town to the Rossville Athletic Center and suit up for the Lady Bobcats.

"I'm really excited that it's my first signing as (head) coach and I'm getting four, including an entire back row that has played together," Weaver beamed. "With is being a two or three-year school, you don't have long to try and build up that chemistry, but these girls will come in here already having it and that will be very beneficial for us."

The quartet were part of a Lady Panther squad that went 29-10 last fall with state playoff victories over Carver-Columbus and Troup County on their way to the Class AAAA Elite Eight.

Burk was a fixture on the back row, finishing the year with 51 digs and a serving percentage of .900.

"Today means a lot because (Ridgeland head) Coach (April) Lemonds has really pushed me and she made me realize things about myself that I didn't before," Burk explained. "It just makes me happy to make her proud. And it's great to get to keep playing with these girls. They are some of my best friends, so I think the chemistry will still be there."

She added that Weaver has already made an impression on her.

"I really like her," Burk added. "She's really nice. She's not too intimidating, but she's also competitive and wants to win."

Simmons was another mainstay on the back row, playing libero for the Black-and-White. The Walker County Dream Team Honorable Mention pick had 18 aces, 66 digs and a serving percentage of .890 as a senior.

"It's great knowing I'll get to play two more years of volleyball and I'm really glad I get to play with these girls some more," Simmons said. "I just love them all so much so it makes it all of this really special. We had some really great years here.

"I just love how close (Georgia Northwestern) is to home. I don't have to go as far to go to school."

For Miller, signing day was extra special. The outside hitter, who earned All-Region Honorable Mention honors last season after 108 kills and 81 digs, had full reconstructive ankle surgery three months ago.

"This is a major milestone for me because I didn't think I'd ever be able to play again," she explained. "So the fact that Coach Weaver is taking a chance on me just really means a lot and I'm super excited to see what this next season has in store. We all like to joke around and stuff, but when it comes time to play, we all really mesh well together."

She added that proximity to home was another reason she chose Georgia Northwestern.

"I don't think I'm ready to leave home yet, so this will give me time to figure it out, test the waters and see what life has for me," she added.

Owens had a .892 serving percentage last fall and finished with 69 digs. She called getting the chance to continue to play volleyball with her teammates "special".

"I get to keep playing the sport I love with some of my very best friends, friends that I have played volleyball with since middle school," she explained. "I'm just looking forward to a really great experience with them."

She added that she had already developed a good relationship with others on the team.

"I like the people (at GNTC)," she continued. "When I went to open gym, everyone was really welcoming and very nice. I think we could all have a really good chemistry together."

"Jamese is going to be an awesome outside hitter, if that's where we end up using her," Weaver said. "Even after her ankle surgery, she's already killing the ball and I'm excited about that and I see potential in Jesse playing the front row. I know she's used to playing back row, but she could be an asset for us up front.

"I've already decided that if we have a bad game serve receiving, then Morgen will be the one serving to us in practice the next day. The girls already don't like to try to hit her serves and Shanna will go for anything and everything. I'm just really excited about all of them."

Lemonds said she was thrilled to see more of her senior class moving on to play at the next level.

"Five of my eight seniors are going on to play in college and it just says a lot about the group I had here," she began. "The chemistry they have; it's hard to put it into words. They are just such a cohesive group and they always have been. Over the years, it's just been nice to watch that bond progress.

"They all have positive attitudes and they are all hustlers on the court. Shanna is the catalyst that gets everyone going and Jamese is just a natural born leader. Jesse just wants to please you and she'll do anything you ask, and Morgen, if you tell her to run through a brick wall because it will help the team, she'll do it."

Burk plans to take her core classes at GNTC and eventually major in history education. Simmons wants to one day become a high school history teacher. Miller would like to travel to Spain to learn more about the Spanish culture and eventually become a foreign language teacher, while Owens plans to play two years at Georgia Northwestern before transferring to Dalton State to major in biology.