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High school teammates set each other up for college careers

Photo Courtesy: Belmont Athletics

Two athletes started playing sports together as early as middle school, long before their collegiate careers began at Belmont.

Volleyball sophomores Brie Lewis and Arianna Person have been competing with and against each other since the age of 11.

“She’s something familiar here at Belmont. At the beginning, when I had no friends, it was nice knowing someone. I don’t get homesick often, but if I do, I come to practice and see a piece of home on the court with me,” said Person.

Person, a native of Shawnee, Kansas, joined forces with Lewis from Overland Park, Kansas, when they were put on the same competitive basketball team in sixth grade.

After both attending St. James Academy high school, their skills paired them in basketball, track and volleyball.

Lewis and Person lettered all four years in both track and volleyball. They won back-to-back state championships for their 4×400 relay team in 2013 and 2014.

In volleyball, both Lewis and Person played at the outside hitter position, which eventually led them to accolades of four Kansas state titles, two national titles and one undefeated season.

Person was named the Kansas 5A State Player of the Year for her senior 2013-2014 season. Lewis played in both the Missouri-Kansas All-Star Game and Kansas Volleyball Coaches All-Star game her senior 2013-2014 season.

“We had an amazing high school coach. We learned a lot from her and we brought what we learned to Belmont,” said Person. “I find myself going back and remembering the fundamentals when I’m in a tough position sometimes.”

Former recruiting coordinator Jeannette Waldo and Belmont head coach Deane Webb recruited Person at the Kansas State Tournament. There, the coaches became interested in Lewis as well.

Lewis committed to Belmont first during the spring semester of her junior year.  Person originally committed to Georgia Southern University but after head coach Chad Callihan accepted another coaching position, she committed to Belmont University in the summer before her senior year.

Shortly after their commitments, Webb resigned to accept the head coach position at Ohio University.

Tony Howell became the new head coach at Belmont University in 2014, Lewis and Person’s first collegiate season together.

“For me, it was the second time a coach had left, but it worked out really well in the end. Brie and I had each other, and Tony’s a great coach,” said Person.

Moving nearly nine hours away from home, Lewis and Person had each other to fall back on for their freshman year.

“When you go to an in-state school, it’s easy for girls to get familiar with each other since most of them played either with or against each other before. But when Arianna and I first got here, we didn’t know any of the girls. We weren’t familiar with the area, so it was tough. It was nice having her here,” said Lewis.

Howell quickly became familiar with his team and set his aspirations high for the 2014 season. He noticed the fluidity between Lewis and Person on the court and their impact on the team as a whole.

“We knew that they were previous teammates and you could tell just by if one was not having a good game or getting frustrated. You can tell they know how to communicate with each other,” said Howell. “They trust each other on the court in getting the job done because they have played with each other for so long.”

Both Lewis and Person know they communicate more efficiently on the court than with the other players.

“I know when not to talk to Brie on the court, and I also know when I can say something. Once you play with someone for so long, you just know their natural tendencies,” said Person.

Person, a more vocal and competitive leader, said her natural tendency is to go after balls that wouldn’t normally be considered in her zone.

“Because it’s Brie though, I trust her in making a good dig and I let her get it,” said Person.

Lewis, a quiet leader, uses humor and sarcasm to keep the mood light.

“My go-to phrase to Arianna is, ‘that hit was average.’ I’m obviously being sarcastic because her hit broke the floor, but it gets her fired up and competitive,” said Lewis.

Howell and his coaching staff transitioned Lewis into her new position as a right-side hitter. With her new position, Person and Lewis play together on the front and back row.

“When we’re in the front row together, it’s a fun experience. We’ve never done that before. Volleyball is a fun sport, and it’s fun when you get to play it with friends. It’s even more fun when you play it with friends you have known forever,” said Person.

Their 2014 and 2015 season brought an opportunity for improvement and success for future seasons.

“As coaching any student-athlete as talented as all the ladies we have on the team, it’s always a challenge because they all strive and desire to be the best that they can be. It’s a challenge for us to make sure we train them to be the best athletes,” said Howell. “Brie and Arianna are no different, they are extremely gifted young ladies and it’s fun seeing them together.”

In a phrase that coins the relationship among these two women athletes, “that hit was average” has become an understatement.

This article was written by Taylor Andrews.

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