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Omaha Starlings Director Shannon Walker gives her players inspirational quotes every week, and one of her favorites is this one from legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi: “We will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while that we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”
Under the guidance of Walker, who began coaching with the club in 2000 and took over as director in 2007, Starlings Omaha has done just that. They’ve won five championships at Starlings Nationals – four at the 18s level and another with their 14s. Starlings Omaha has also sent more than 30 players on to play in college, including Samara West, a 6-4 middle blocker who was a freshman redshirt this year at Iowa State, and Colleen Ourada, a 6-1 outside hitter who was a senior in 2013 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
Walker works hard to cultivate a family atmosphere within her teams, and the bond is strong. In West’s case, it was so strong that she stayed with Starlings despite being encouraged to transfer to a more elite club when being recruited by University of Nebraska, one of the country’s top programs.
“She said, ‘No,’” Walker says. “She told them, ‘Anything I can do with [another club] I can do with Starlings, and Starlings is my family.’”
The decision turned out just fine for West, who accepted a full ride to Iowa State, partially because they have a great veterinary medicine program and also because she really likes Cyclone Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, a University of Nebraska alum who grew up in Omaha.
Another great example of Starlings loyalty: Seven of Walker’s 10 coaches this year are former Starlings who, in her words, are “all qualified to go somewhere where they can get more than their gas paid for” but who want to give back and help spread the club’s big-picture message.
“Our focus is not just volleyball – it’s about life lessons,” says Walker, 33, a reading specialist at Omaha Northwest High. To that end, Omaha Starlings participate in many off-the-court activities, including team dinners and slumber parties, and Walker has players keep journals to track how their week is going on many levels: mentally, socially, nutritionally, etc.
“I’m proud that the majority of our kids go on to college, whether they’re playing or not,” Walker says. “We emphasize continuing their education, becoming good citizens and being good people, and I love the fact that these kids want to come back and give back. Even the ones who aren’t coaching are supportive. They still buy Starlings T-shirts and hoodies and come to practices and games. I really like the fact that we’ve created lifelong friends among players, parents and coaches.”
Dr. Rich Paat from the Toledo Starlings team made another trip down to Haiti to help the “Youth without Borders” cause. He brought in enough “kids without hunger” food packs to hopefully feed all the kids in the school for two months and also left health packs for the kids. The Toledo Starlings parents put together school supplies for the 15 unenrolled kids at the school that only get to sit outside the window of the school and try to learn by listening to the teacher. “Helping the least fortunate of the kids is what our Starlings program tries to accomplish,” Paat acknowledges. “I’d like to make another passionate plea to all of our Starlings Clubs to help sponsor the kids at Edeline’s School in Haiti.”
Former Omaha Starling, Colleen Ourada, is now a senior at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. You may remember her from Nationals a few years ago, she is the one that had to play all wrapped up because she has had three hip surgeries. In addition to setting the all school kill record at Augsburg, yesterday she was named All-American. Congratulations!
We took the crew to Daytona Beach to watch Alexas Thomas (a freshman from our Brevard County Starlings club) play her final home match of the season for Bethune Cookman University. It turns out that a bunch of Cocoa people were there to see a freshman girl from South Carolina State named Alexis Moses. Small world, they both attended and played volleyball together at Kennedy Middle school. Alexis moved to South Carolina after her 8th grade year. They are still great friends!!! I have been a part of the Kennedy Middle School volleyball program since its inception almost 10 years ago.
Getting Starlings in the middle school is a great choice. It has made a huge difference in Central Brevard County. And apparently in the MEAC conference. They are both outstanding players.