Billings repeats as county’s top player

Six years ago, Whitney Billings was already catching eyes in Pelham practices. Now, the 6-foot-1 middle hitter is capturing attention across the nation.

Billings, this year’s Shelby County Reporter Player of the Year, was named one of 24 America Volleyball Coaches Association First-Team All Americans last week. She also signed last week to play collegiately at the University of Kentucky, currently ranked No. 19 in the nation. After being named a finalist for national sophomore of the year in 2006 and a Top 50 recruit as a junior, Billings committed to UK over the summer instead of 17-time Southeastern Conference champion Florida.

“I was going to go to an SEC school wherever I played,” she said. “I thought Kentucky would be a better place for me because I was more comfortable there than Florida, and the coaches were more interested in me.”

One thing Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner said he likes about Billings is her ability to dominate a match.

“Whitney is quiet by nature off the court,” Skinner said. “But, she is an intense competitor between the lines. She’s extremely versatile and will play all phases of the game at a high level.”

Her competiveness goes back to her roots in volleyball, learning the game and getting a desire to play by watching her cousin Chandesha Billings play for the Pelham Panthers in 2000-02.

Like, Chandesha, Billings loves to hit the ball and collect kills. Billings had 717 kills as a senior to lead Pelham, while Chandesha is fourth all-time in the AHSAA for kills in a match with 34 during her senior season in 2002.

“She has modeled her game after her cousin,” Pelham head coach Kim Kiel said. “Whitney (in sixth grade) was already the same height as Chandesha was as a senior … When she came here as a seventh grader playing on varsity, you could tell she was starting to come into herself and she’s really developed into that phenomenal player.”

As a senior, Billings led the Pelham Panthers to a second-place finish in Class 6A and the best record in the state at 60-5, while collecting 408 digs and 116 blocks in 62 matches in addition to her kills.

She hopes to continue her success at UK, who will look for at least a share of the SEC title with Florida, if it beats Tennessee on Friday. Billings hopes that she can step in next year and start as a freshman and help build on the Wildcats’ four-year streak of NCAA Tournament performances. Beyond college, the former Junior Olympic All-Tournament Team member hopes to one day get a chance to play for USA in one of the future Olympic games.

2008 ALL-COUNTY TEAM

– Whitney Billings, Pelham High School, middle hitter, senior

– Jasmine Clark, Pelham High School, middle hitter

– Amy Hale, Briarwood Christian, outside hitter, senior

– Whitney Hudson, Pelham, outside hitter, senior

– Lauren Parks, Briarwood Christian, libero, senior

– Ally Slaughter, Pelham High School, outside hitter, junior

– Lindsay Young, Pelham High School, setter, junior

HONORABLE MENTION

BRIARWOOD: Julia Hoke, Sue McKinney, Elizabeth Reiser

CALERA: Kellie Rasmussen

CHELSEA: Rebecca Simpson

INDIAN SPRINGS: Tullia Rushton, Rebecca Barr

KINGWOOD: Serina Bourassa, Lauren Rozof

MONTEVALLO: Brittany Bristow, Seqouia Peeples

OAK MOUNTAIN: Sam Skinner, Jessica Cooley

SHELBY COUNTY: Andrea Corley, Danitra Lee

SPAIN PARK: Paige Chaney, Kelsey Williams

THOMPSON: Michelle Chase, Stephanie Giddens

VINCENT: Shavon Keller, Amber Shaw