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Hardwork pays off for Harris as she excels in two sports

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By Kristin Beck

After years of hard work and commitment, everything finally fell into place for Megan Harris during her senior year.

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As a varsity starter her junior year on the volleyball team, she only played half of the game as the team’s libero, or defensive specialist. This past season, she subbed out for only one position rather than three and set a school record for the most digs in a season with 256. She also had the third-highest serving percentage on the team with 89.6 percent and recorded the most aces with 56.

Harris was recognized for her achievements by being named to the NCKC All-Conference Team, the All-A Tournament Team, the All-District Tournament Team and the All-Regional Tournament Team and was named Co-Most Valuable Player on the Lady Panthers’ team.

She also earned the opportunity to continue her playing career in college, earning an academic and athletic scholarship to Union College.

In tennis, Harris progressed from having absolutely no experience her freshman year to being half of the No. 1 doubles team that finished the season 7-3 and runners-up in the NCKC Tournament. She was also named the Most Valuable Player on the tennis team.

But Harris did not just excel in athletics. She also maintained a 3.714 GPA and was involved in several clubs and organizations, including National Honor Society President and working for the Lighthouse after-school program.

For these reasons and more, Harris was named the 2013 Female Student-Athlete of the Year, an award presented by The News-Democrat and sponsored by Earl Floyd Ford.

“I had some tough competition,” she said in an interview May 17. “All the female athletes are amazing people. They are really good in sports and in school, so I applaud them for that. But me personally, I was excited. When I achieve an accomplishment I try not to be too over dramatic about it. Inside I’m really happy, but I try not to be over happy because I don’t want people to think I’m bragging. I get really insecure about that and I work hard for the things that I have and I feel that if you want things in life you definitely have to earn them and the only way to do that is to work hard. But I was really excited.”

Harris is a competitor. It is that competitiveness that she enjoys most about both volleyball and tennis. But if asked to choose, volleyball is her favorite.

“I like meeting new people,” she said. “It’s a sport that I feel passionate about so it’s something I get to put all my effort into and get better and help my friends improve as well.”

Harris began playing volleyball in seventh grade. Head coach Kristen Hooper began coaching her in eighth grade. “At that time, she was a rough-and-tumble 13-year-old with an incredible amount of athletic ability,” she wrote in her nomination. “Still, there were a number of obstacles keeping her from reaching her goals, including attitude and perseverance.”

Hooper said she does not know if there was a specific point in Harris’ career or if it was a gradual transformation, but “Megan has matured into a focused, positive and dedicated student-athlete. She now puts her team first over herself (and) is driven for success.”

Harris’ success did not happen overnight or by chance.

“To say Megan is a hard worker is an understatement,” Hooper wrote. “She works tirelessly on her game, both athletically and academically and almost never allows the pressure to get to her. She can often be found tutoring other players in the gym before practices or games … Her teammates respect and admire her tenacity and just by doing what she does, she has pushed other girls to improve and work harder.”

Harris was voted team captain by both the volleyball and the tennis teams. She received the most votes on the volleyball team. She was the speaking captain and the other three seniors rotated as co-captain alongside her at games.

Harris described herself as a leader with a lot of determination.

“I love my teammates,” she said. “It made me feel like they trusted me. They knew if there was a problem, they could come to me and we would try to work things out and come up with a solution for both parties.”

Harris began playing tennis her freshman year because her friends played the sport. “It was a way to keep all of us together,” she said. “Playing sports in general keeps me out of trouble, and I feel it helps keep me focused in school. Not that I wouldn’t be focused anyway, but I know I’ve got standards I have to meet when it comes to playing sports. Coaches expect a lot out of me and my fellow teammates.”

She played on the No. 2 doubles team with Linda Cruz her first two years. As a junior, she moved up to No. 1 doubles and was teamed up with fellow junior Pooja Patel.

The team enjoyed a lot of success this season, in large part to Harris’ leadership. The team was undefeated for most of the season, and the Lady Panthers won the NCKC championship. Harris and Patel finished in second place behind Trimble County.

Head coach Juan Fernandez praised Harris for her willingness to lead the team, especially since the majority of the team is made up of eighth and ninth graders.

“Megan’s leadership is outstanding,” he said in his nomination. “She has become a true leader of the team, where half of the team is ninth grade and below. She mentored and supported the rest of the team and showed by example … She pushed the rest of the team to become better because she pushed me to become a better coach.”

Harris said she had not thought about playing volleyball in college until her boyfriend’s parents asked her if she wanted to play.

“They said it would be great for long-term relationships and there would be great connections involved and it got me thinking,” she said. “I decided I wanted to commit to it because I love it so much and I love meeting and making new friends.”

It was now midway through the volleyball season, and Harris had applied to Berea College and the University of Kentucky. Head coach Kristen Hooper knew the head coach at Berea and emailed him to set up a meeting.

Harris took a college tour and practiced with the head coach and assistant coach. In November, she attended the Berea Showcase, where seven colleges were represented.

“That was a little intimidating because there were, it had to be 100 or more girls,” she said. “… I played to the best of my ability, but it was my first time and I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t exactly get to show off what I could really do.”

After the tryout, Harris put her information out there for other colleges, including filling out recruitment forms off of team websites, and Union College contacted her. The team invited her to attend tryouts.

Harris’ cousin had attended the Upward Bound program at the school, so she was slightly familiar with it and began getting interested in attending there. She applied and went to tryouts March 2.

“I thought the tryouts were just fantastic and I did really good,” she said. The team called her back about a week later and offered her a spot on their JV team.

When asked about her improvement from last year to this year, Harris said she just gives it her all and takes the corrections from her coaches and applies them to how she is playing. She credited the time spent with the Berea coaches for helping to improve her serve.

From her junior to her senior season, Harris said she was impressed with the number of aces she had and that she had learned to serve to zones. She also learned how to hit from the back row, which not many players can do, she said. She said she wishes she had worked harder on hitting during her career, but she was excited to receive the libero position.

“I don’t mind to jump on the floor and scratch my legs up because that’s just part of the glory of it.”

When asked how she was able to achieve the digs record, Harris said she just started going after every ball. Hooper always tells the players not to let the ball hit the floor because they are giving away easy points and would get frustrated when they stood and watched the ball hit the floor, Harris said.

“That was part of my frustration when we played as a team was because I knew coach wasn’t going to be happy with us, and, of course, when you don’t do things right, there are consequences and running around the gym is not fun,” Harris said. “For me, it was just hustling more and going after every ball like the coach told me to.”

While still undecided, “thanks to coach (Duke Boles) and being enrolled in the biomedical class” she thinks she wants to major in biology. She said she believes she would like to become a cardiac surgeon. The only thing stopping her is the huge commitment to education that entails.

“I know if I set my mind to it, I can do it,” she said. “I’m just unsure if that’s what I want to get myself in to, just in case something were to happen down the road and think, ‘This isn’t what I want.’ That would be a whole lot of backtracking.”

She also has considered a career working with DNA.

When she was not playing sports, Harris worked at Lighthouse.

“I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful boss,” she said. “Sheila Chowning is an amazing woman, and she allowed me to work and still be flexible with my athletics and my schoolwork and that helped so much.”

Harris said she has been told she should consider going into education in college, but she does not think she could handle it.

“Overall, I love the Lighthouse kids to death. They are like another family to me,” she said. “But it also makes it easier with the co-workers that I have because they’re all friendly and fun-loving and they all care.”

Harris said it has been tough balancing school, sports, work, friends and her boyfriend, but “it’s a challenge, and I love challenges,” she said. “Even though I get frustrated sometimes, in the end, it’s better for me.”