Mary Willis officially moves up June 1 from graduate assistant to head coach of the Tennessee Temple University volleyball program, but she already has been securing walk-ons to add to the team's six returning scholarship players and Friday she signed her first recruit: Celeste Walton from Prattville, Ala., and Marbury High School. The 5-foot-10 Walton could play middle blocker or right-side hitter for the Lady Crusaders, who went 19-14 last season under interim coach Liva Brivule. Marbury was the runner-up in its Class 5A area and went to the region tournament with Walton leading the team in blocks and finishing second in kills. She played four years of club volleyball for the Atlanta Boom's Birmingham program, and Willis saw her in Boom video. "I saw her in the NCSA recruiting site and sent her an email about our school, and her mom called me and we talked a little bit," Willis said. "I got the family feel, and Celeste seemed serious about school and her future, and we brought her up for a visit. We fell in love with her personality and her mom's personality, and we liked the way she plays. She's young and has a lot of growth ahead, but if she works hard she can be one of my rotation players." Walton was recruited also by Lenoir Community College in North Carolina but was swayed by Willis's "heartfelt" interest and belief in Temple, and the visit to the school and its future campus clinched her decision. After starting three years for Pickens (S.C.) High School with two Class AAA state championships and a runner-up finish, Willis passed up scholarships from several South Carolina colleges to play for Toccoa Falls in Georgia, where she was a four-year starter at setter, set the school record for career assists and was a two-time NCCAA and AVCA All-American. She began coaching youth teams while in high school and coached high-school-age club teams while in college. "I think being at Temple has been a great opportunity for me in a lot of ways," she said. "I grew in organization and communication this past year and in building relationships with the players." Athletic director Kenrick Liburd praised her "great rapport with the girls" and said "she has a good eye for the game and really enjoys the game, and she's done a really good job helping develop our players. She did amazing things on the court at Toccoa Falls and she's a strong Christian, and I feel she's going to be a great leader for our volleyball program."
• Alabama senior distance runner Claire Turner from Signal Mountain -- and Red Bank High School -- was named to this year's Southeastern Conference Track and Field Community Service Team. She has volunteered with the Alabama Athletics Halloween Extravaganza, Hatch's House of Hope, Soles for Souls and an elementary school's "Tailgating With the Stars" program. She also helped with the construction of an orphanage during a mission trip to Mexico, and she was part of the Athletes in Action Track and Field Zimbabwe Ministry. Turner was the 1600- and 3200-meter girls' state champion in 2010.
• As Union University finished third in the National Christian College Athletic Association national softball tournament last week, Reagan Schrader from Grace Academy in Chattanooga set a season home-run record for the Jackson, Tenn., team. She tied the previous record with a grand slam in the Bulldogs' opening game in the tournament and hit No. 15 in a 7-2 win over Grace of Indiana, when she was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. She was 2-for-5 with an RBI in the subsequent 10-5 loss to Oklahoma Christian that ended Union's season at 31-27. Schrader wound up also with a .364 batting average, 12 doubles, two triples and team highs of 40 runs and 58 RBIs.
Get breaking news from the Times Free Press on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timesfreepress