Friday, August 01, 2008

SPORTS>> Former Lady Devil returns

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville Lady Red Devil volleyball practices are nothing new to Justine Rial.

But when the 2008 Lady Devils take to the court for the first time on Monday, Rial will be on the other side of the whistle.

The Williams Baptist College graduate takes over this fall as the new Lady Red Devil volleyball coach.

Rial was a three-sport star for the Lady Red Devils from 2002-’04. Most of her accolades came from her play as a left fielder for the JHS softball team, but she was also an integral part of the volleyball and basketball teams.

Recent vacancies in the Lady Red Devil coaching staff coincided with Rial’s return to her hometown with a physical-education degree in hand. Rial will also serve as an assistant softball coach.

She says that her new gig is the first real job she’s ever had, and really the only one she ever wants to apply for.

“I want to stay in coaching,” Rial said. “I don’t think I would ever want to get into being an athletic director or anything like that. Just going from student to coach here will be a big transition, but I think growing up here in Jacksonville gives me a big advantage. I’m actually going to be coaching a few kids that I used to go to daycare with.”

Although she will be heavily involved in the Lady Devil varsity sports program, her primary job through the day will be as a physical-education teacher at the elementary school.

“Sports draws me in like nothing else,” Rial said. “There’s nothing else I ever wanted to do. Like when you see a little kid in a fire shirt that wants to be a fireman when he grows up, that was me with athletics.”

Rial’s accomplishments as a player at Jacksonville included All-Conference for softball her sophomore through senior years, with an All-State nod her senior year. That led to a scholarship with the Lady Eagles, where she played volleyball and softball.

Her career as a college volleyball player ended after only one season, but she went on to earn All-American Midwest Conference honors for four years in softball.

She finished up her education with a brief student-teaching stint at Hoxie, and from there, went back to the place she knew she wanted to coach since age eight — Jacksonville.

Rial is a self-proclaimed sports junkie so it’s no surprise that her daily routine might include everything from church-league softball to fishing and hiking, and even ultimate Frisbee. Being in the rural setting of Walnut Ridge also introduced her to the world of deer hunting.

“That’s what happens when you go to a small college for four years,” Rial quipped.

Rial’s return refilled an empty nest for her mother Maria, who recently sent Justine’s brother Addison off to Southwest
Assemblies of God University, more commonly known as SAGU, in Waxahachie, Texas. She plans on living with her mother again until she is able to purchase a house.

She got to meet with her new team last week. She’s anxious to see what’s in store athletically with the group, but is already impressed with their grades and attention to detail.

“They’re young, but they seem to be really aware,” Rial said. “Over half the team is sophomores, but we also have a good group of seniors and juniors. The 10th graders seemed to be a good group as well, and I’m excited about getting those girls out there, and hopefully they will keep getting stronger and stronger as the year goes on.

“The best thing is that most of them have really good GPAs, so we won’t have to worry about who’s eligible, who’s ineligible, and that kind of thing.”

She will have three full weeks to get the team ready before preseason tri-matches begin on Aug. 25.

The Lady Red Devils will take part in a tri-match at Beebe that Monday, and will travel to Hot Springs Lakeside the following day for another tri-match against Lakeside and Mt. Saint Mary. Their first home match will be Aug. 28 against 5A powerhouse Greenbrier, and conference play will start with an away match at Parkview on Sept. 2.