By Devin Golden
Wendy Perez started playing volleyball three years ago, but she learned the sport quickly and helped Southeast Whitfield High School reach state-level prominence on the court.
Now she’ll have the chance to help Dalton State College’s program build what it hopes is a successful future.
Perez signed a partial athletic scholarship with the Roadrunners on Wednesday. She joins coach Bruna Langner’s program, which returned last season part of an athletics relaunch after three decades without sports at the school.
A member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Volleyball Team this past season as a senior and earning an honorable mention as a junior, Perez helped Southeast’s Lady Raiders reach at least the second round of the state tournament for a fourth year in a row. She also was part of Southeast’s Area 7-4A championship squad from 2012 that reached the state semifinals and the Area 7-3A championship team from 2011. Their 2012 season saw the deepest state tournament run in history for a program from Murray or Whitfield counties.
Perez said a big influence for going out for volleyball as a sophomore were the Lady Raiders’ McKayla Burse, Megan Collins and Hannah Graham — who were juniors at the time — convincing her to give the sport a chance. Collins and Graham were each named The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
“I just wanted to try something knew,” Perez said. “Playing with them was a really good experience and it helped me like it a lot more playing with people who are as good as me.”
However, Perez’s high school success wasn’t what kick-started Dalton State’s interest.
“She’s been playing on a club volleyball team, Set for Life,” Southeast coach Bethany Kenemer said, “and there are a few players on the Dalton State team that coach.”
That included Kailey Vaughn and Tori Pierce, who graduated from Sonoraville and East Hamilton (Tenn.), respectively.
“The funniest thing about her is I had no idea about her,” said Langner, who led the Roadrunners to a 10-14 record in 2013. “Kailey Vaughn and Tori Pierce told me about her. I then went to practice at Southeast and saw her. I need a stronger player. ... The good thing about her is she’s so athletic and can learn new things quick.”
A middle hitter for Southeast, Perez tallied 360 kills, 211 digs, 48 blocks and 40 aces in her final high school season. This was the first season she didn’t substitute out when her position rotated to the back row, showing how much she has improved as a passer in addition to being an athletic, strong hitter at the net.
“(Dalton State was) looking for a middle or outside hitter,” Kenemer said. “I think it was a product of the girls saw her, she was interested and it spiraled from there.
“She’s very versatile. Normally you think of a middle hitter as someone who can’t play (on the) back row. She was one of our best passers. She could play outside hitter. She can move wherever they need her.”
Staying close to home was important for Perez, who also played basketball and currently is competing in track and field.
“It was a lot closer to home and I wouldn’t have to pay that much,” she said, noting West Georgia and LaGrange also showed interest. “I was excited just to know I would play at the next level. It’s something I was really excited about. Not everyone gets to do that, even if they love it a lot.”
Kenemer said Perez staying close by will be a positive for her former teammates.
“I think it will help our girls realize ‘I can go and play in college,’” Kenemer said. “We’ll be able to go and watch Wendy play. I think it gives them that foot in the door to think, ‘If she can do it, then I can do it, too.’”