Middle hitter Courtlyn Ison can cruise through her senior volleyball season at Ooltewah without being distracted by the grind of deciding her college future.
Ison already has that plan mapped out.
The 6-foot-1-inch Ison, the District 5-AAA Co-Player of the Year in 2013 and MVP for district and region tournaments, has committed to continue her volleyball career at Belmont University in Nashville.
“I always thought I’d like to play at a SEC school, maybe Georgia,” Ison said. “I visited Georgetown University, Miami (Ohio) and Belmont and Belmont was my favorite. I fell in love with the school, coach and program.”
Ison, a powerful force at the net every opponent must contend with, will become the second Lady Owl to play volleyball at Belmont when she signs scholarship papers in November.
Former Ooltewah star Alex Martin, who was region and district MVP and district regular season Co-MVP as a junior and all-district and all-region and TACA All-Star game participant her senior year, is currently a senior middle hitter for coach Deane Webb’s Bruins.
Webb has transformed the Bruins program since arriving in 2003. The Bruins captured the Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2012, their first year for eligibility in the league, appeared in three NCAA tournaments and Webb became the youngest Division I coach to reach 300 wins in 2010.
Webb has a career record of 369-218 over 17 years, including 207-138 in 11 seasons at Belmont.
“It wasn’t a great program before coach Webb got there,” Ison said. “He has turned it around. The whole program is set up for the athletes and that impressed me. There is weight lifting and training when you don’t have classes. It’s great.”
Ison found that Belmont is a perfect fit as well.
“I had always heard that Belmont is a great academic school,” she said. “People told me I would get an education by going there. I want to major in physical therapy and they have an amazing program.”
Ison will be well prepared as a student-athlete when she arrives at Belmont – athletes can be on campus for summer workouts in late June or early July.
Perhaps the best result of an early commitment is that Ison can concentrate on her senior season with the Lady Owls without the distraction of recruiting.
“(Committing) early is huge,” she said. “I always worried about where I’d go to college and who would offer a scholarship. Belmont offered me about three weeks ago and I took a week to call coach Webb to let him know I accepted the offer.
“That was a huge relief and exciting. I told him I would love to come over there and be a Belmont Bruin. He was excited and I was excited. I can almost picture my freshman year in college. Now I can just play volleyball and finish my senior year.”
The 16-year-old Ison has been playing volleyball for Elaine Peigen, the Lady Owls’ head coach, since the sixth grade. The coach is confident of what Ison gives the Lady Owls and about her success in college.
“I always knew she could be something special,” Peigen said. “She has matured on and off the court and that’s what I expected to happen this past year. She’s mentally tough and very competitive. I can’t wait to see what she brings to Ooltewah volleyball next year.
“As far as Belmont, it’s a perfect fit for Courtlyn. She’ll do fine.”
Webb got an in-person scouting report on Ison this past summer when he served as the college instructor for the Lady Owls’ summer volleyball camp.
In 2013 Ison powered the Lady Owls through an unbeaten (12-0) District 5-AAA championship season, capping it off by sharing the MVP award with East Hamilton sophomore Emma Lenoir.
The Lady Owls then claimed district and region tournament titles for the second straight year and Ison was selected the most valuable player in both. She combined for 51 kills and 20 blocks as Ooltewah beat rival Soddy-Daisy for the championships in both tourneys.
Ooltewah went 5-0 against Soddy-Daisy last season.
In a Sectional matchup against Columbia Central, which boasted two all-state players, Ison recorded 16 kills and 7.5 blocks in helping the Lady Owls punch their ticket to a second straight appearance in the Class AAA state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Ooltewah headed to state with a sterling 44-10 record, but lost to eventual state champion Brentwood and Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett to end their championship dream.
Ison would like a different ending to the 2014 season.
“We have a great chance of going farther than we went last year,” she said. “We have a good freshman group coming in to mix with the more experience players. We want to go undefeated in district again, go back to state and try to win it.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)