For a season like no other, the Paris Lady Eagles and their coach, Jordan Devine, find themselves “preparing in the dark” for a fall season of unknowns. Like all high school teams in Arkansas, the Lady Eagles are uncertain of if the season will be played, and if so, what it will look like. Sports programs are creatures of habit, using the same year-around calendar of events each year to prepare their teams with all planning targeted for their teams to peak at the start of the new season. And now, Paris coach Jordan Devine finds herself preparing for if and how the 2020 season will take place. Devine spoke on this in her internet sportscast interview Thursday on “The Sports Brew Show.”
Coach Devine answered questions and talked about the Lady Eagles volleyball program’s past success as well as the outlook for the upcoming season. It was very apparent that everyone concerned was excited to switch their attentions to the topic of sports after months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview lasted a little more than one hour, and throughout the time on the air, Coach Devine’s love and enthusiasm for her players and the sport were clearly evident. It was truly a breath of fresh air to be talking about sports again. It is apparent that sports have been missed dearly by fans, coaches, and players.
Turning a negative into a positive, Coach spoke about the positive time of the dead period being that of having more time with her family. “You definitely have to look on the positive side of what you are given, and that (spending time with her family) has definitely been a positive for us throughout the last 8-10 weeks.”
Handling all of the changes and uncertainties of coaching a sport during the Arkansas Activities Association’s (AAA) mandatory no contact, dead period is not without its challenges. When asked how she has handled these circumstances with the team, Coach Devine responded, “I think we are just trying to do the best that we can. Since we left, I have sent workouts to the girls to do each week. We have been in constant communication and have tried not to put too much on them. You want your athletes to stay in the best shape possible, but it is hard to do stuff at home. It’s not like coming to the gym everyday. For the most part, I have faith that they are doing a good job with their workouts.”
Looking back at last year, Coach Devine spoke of her great senior class that had been so successful throughout their playing careers at Paris. “We (Coach Devine and her graduating seniors) have stayed in contact. My heart just hurts for them because they did not get the last part of their senior year that they deserved. You look forward to your senior year, and the last couple of months things at school are usually winding down, and you are enjoying your last months at school, and it just came to such an abrupt stop. So, my heart just hurts for them. Robyn made the All Star team and they did not get to have the All Star game. I am glad she got the recognition for making the team, but I just hate that she didn’t get the chance to show everybody that she can play with the best in the state.”
The Lady Eagles volleyball team was 36-2 in the 2019 season. Although, by Paris standards, the season did not end well for the team, the season’s success was truly magical for the Lady Eagles and last year’s senior class. “
Four great seniors combined with a group of talented younger players that produced a dominant record that included district and district tournament championships. “It was a very special season. It was a great year; great record, and it is just unfortunate that everybody remembers that last loss (just one of two losses on the entire season). It’s going to be hard to replace the senior leadership of Mainer, Forbis, Boswell, and Gossard. You graduate seniors every year that have big roles, and that was such a great group in terms of leadership, which that young sophomore group really needed. They needed those seniors to step in and say this is how we are going to run things. The seniors that are graduating expected the younger players to step up and take that role.”
The young sophomores did step up last year, making the future bright for the Lady Eagles. “We all knew they were going to have to take on some pretty important roles last season. I thought throughout the season they did really well. I am confident they will bring that to the team again this season.”
Coach Devine, in two years as head coach of the Lady Eagles, has amassed an overall record of 71-4, including one state title. “That’s a great record, but I would never have had it without girls that were willing to show up everyday and put the work in that they have. So, it is really a testament to them, their work ethic, and their abilities.”
The theme of the show was “The Drive for Five is Still Alive”, and Coach Devine spoke about this upcoming season and the hunger for the program to return to the state finals. “There is going to be a lot of competition for the four spots vacated by graduating seniors. We have a lot of girls who could be in any of those positions. So, it is going to be fun for us to come into the gym and see who’s hungry for it.” The program has a wealth of talent from the 7th grade players through the senior varsity. Inclusive of last year’s talent who will have another year of playing experience, the varsity will have a strong 9th grade junior high team that will play as sophomores this season. In that class, sophomore Brailey Forst, who was moved to the varsity at the conclusion of the junior high district tournament, is expected to contribute in a significant role as a sophomore this year. “That entire ninth grade group (last year) would be in the gym for hours at a time if they could be; everyday. That’s the group that if the gym is open, they are there. If you just throw a ball up, they are going to go after it and have a good time. Reagan Lowery, she has more potential than she knows what to do with. I think she could be big for us this year, as well. Maggie Ritchie has put in a lot of work. Faith Sanders has put in a lot of work. Rachel O’Neal, who looks like a completely different player; as she did in the short travel season we had this spring. Overall, a great group, and I think they are going to push those juniors and seniors.”
The Lady Eagles will be tested early in next season’s schedule. Away games in the first month of the season at Farmington, Fort Smith Southside, and Mena, are just a few of the tough matches that will test Paris and their ability to play quality opponents on the road. The tough early schedule should benefit the team as they move into conference season and on to the district and state tournaments. Paris’s conference will be expanded this season to include nine conference teams with Green Forest (just outside of Harrison) being added to the conference. The Tigers have made perennial state tournament appearances and will be a tough opponent. Mansfield has dropped to Class 2A and they will be replaced by last year’s Class 2A state champions, the Hackett Hornets. So, the season will not be an easy one for the Lady Eagles, but this is what Paris has become accustomed to as it has built a state championship culture in the program over the past several years.
“We open at Farmington and at Fort Smith Southside the first week of the season. I’m pretty pumped about that first week. And, we also start conference play that first week versus Charleston on August 25. I’ve got Mena on the schedule a little bit down the road in September, and I have Fountain Lake on the schedule, as well.” Fountain Lake played in the state match last spring in Hot Springs, losing to Little Rock Episcopal for the state title.
So, with the daunting schedule that awaits the Lady Tigers, Coach Devine, like other Arkansas coaches, finds herself “preparing in the dark” for a season of unknowns in 2020.
It’s a little bit different coaching volleyball at Paris. The standard is high, and it may be one of the few schools where any season that ends in less than a state title, well, may feel as a let down, or a failure to the players and fans. That is unfortunate; last year’s team certainly has nothing to feel bad about. The Lady Eagles had a season last year that most schools would love to have. Coach Devine commented, “I embrace it (the expectation to compete for a state title every year). You have to, or it will eat you up. I’m a pretty competitive person. Wes (former Paris coach Wes Davis) was a great mentor to me, so it just kind of fit in well.”
Going back to the last dark day in October, the Lady Eagles had just lost in the quarterfinals of the state to eventual state champion Little Rock Episcopal. The next day, Coach Devine and her player were in the stands to watch Episcopal play in the semi-finals. That was the day that the preparation began for this season. “Yeah, we never want to experience that feeling again. The girls wanted to watch that game.”
That tough loss from the state tournament is a big part of the motivation for the program as it proceeds through the off-season and into the August schedule. “I think it has to be. Again, when you realize what just happened, you don’t ever want to feel that again. I don’t think they need a constant reminder, but I do think we will focus on our mindset; what is our purpose of being here, what is our mindset going into practice, our mindset going into this ballgame, etc.”
The unexpected layoff due to the pandemic has made Coach Devine and her players even more eager to get back onto the floor and begin practice for the upcoming season. This could be significant for a talented group that was already hungry to return to the state finals. Motivation should not be a problem for this team next season. “I think this break has shown everybody how much we miss the sport.”
At the time of the sudden stop to the school year and the enactment of the AAA dead period, the team had been in off-season workouts and had played some travel team matches in Oklahoma. “We worked out a couple of days a week and we had “skull sessions” a couple of days a week. In April, I usually opened up the gym a couple of days a week after school for anyone who wanted to show up and play. That’s what we would have done in April and going into May. As soon as school was out, we would have conducted our normal June practices. We had several groups playing travel ball at that time and one group only played part of one season. We missed the March 14 Little Rock tournament that is usually the largest tournament we play in.”
But all Arkansas coaches are in the same boat with respect to the dead period and the effects it has had on their programs. “We’re all dealing with the same restrictions and we are doing the best we can.”
The AAA has released guidances for coaches in reaction to the governor’s announcement on how sports in Arkansas will be allowed to resume practices and workouts. “We (Paris coaches) had a meeting today to discuss how to go about those restrictions and what is the best way to go. So, we will start back on June 1. It will be an interesting June. It will be quite different for us.”
All of the adjustments for practices in the transition period and those leading up to the first of August will hopefully prepare the team for the daunting early schedule that awaits the Lady Eagles. That schedule will begin with the first game of the year on August 27 when Paris travels to Farmington to open the season. Clearly a lot of work is needed to prepare for a tough non-conference, conference, and playoff schedule for the Lady Eagles. And that road will begin with the resumption of workouts on June 1.
Paris and coach Jordan Devine have built a championship culture that started under Wes Davis and has been taken to the next level by Coach Devine. With a young and talented group this year, that championship pedigree should continue for the next several years,
Next week’s Sports Brew Show will feature new Paris boys basketball coach Blain Brewington. The topic of the show will be “A New Era in Paris Basketball with Coach Blain Brewington” Paris fans will not want to miss this interview! Just go to thesportsbrew.net to listen to the interview live, or to listen at anytime to the recorded interview with Coach Brewington.
The Sports Brew Show will air again on Tuesday, June 2 in its final one hour format. Listeners can hear the show live on June 2, or can go to The Sports Brew website to listen to the recorded version of the show. The show will officially begin on June 9 in its summer-long two hour format from 4:00 -6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays.
To catch Coach Brewington’s June 2 interview, go to thesportsbrew.net at 4:00 p.m. to hear the interview from the new Paris boys basketball coach.