TRI CITY — If you’re looking for a potent 1-2 punch, South Umpqua High School seniors Shalyn Gray and Jenna Whitmore rank right near the top in Class 3A volleyball.
The talented 17-year-old student-athletes, who are in their fourth and final seasons with the Lancers’ program, share a special connection on the court.
“I do sometimes call them our yin and yang because one’s in the front row and one’s in the back row,” said South Umpqua coach Sarah Gray, who’s also Shalyn’s mother. “They really complement each other well. They’re both very strong on defense and offense for us, and having one in the back and front makes us a lot stronger.”
Shalyn Gray and Whitmore helped South Umpqua to its most successful volleyball season in school history in 2018. The Lancers shared the Far West League title with Cascade Christian and went on to take third in the 3A state tournament, finishing 19-5 overall.
Shalyn Gray received first-team all-Far West League and first-team all-state honors, while Whitmore made first-team all-league and third-team all-state. Shalyn Gray was selected to the all-state tournament first team and Whitmore was voted to the second team.
They’re the leaders on this year’s S.U. team that’s 8-4 overall and 1-2 in the FWL heading into Tuesday’s match at home against Sutherlin.
“Jenna’s a very good volleyball player. One of the best,” Shalyn Gray said. “I know when the ball’s on the court and back there, she’s going to get it to me so I can get ready to hit. We know what each other are doing.”
Whitmore echoed similar sentiments.
“We’ve been playing volleyball together since third-fourth grade,” Whitmore said. “Actually, Sarah (Gray) was our coach. We’ve played with (current S.U. teammates) Tori Lind, Ellery Smith and Brooke Abel.
“Me and Shay are kind of the more intense ones on the court. When I get a kill, I always look at Shay. I rely on Shay a lot. Oh, she’s great. I think she’s an amazing player.”
Shalyn Gray, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter/middle blocker, is a four-year varsity starter. Whitmore, a 5-9 outside hitter/middle blocker, has started for three years.
“Both of them aren’t super vocal leaders, they lead more by example,” Sarah Gray said. “They’re seasoned athletes, they know what needs to be done as far as hard work and dedication to the team.
“Maybe they could work on being more vocal, but I think they’re doing a great job. They’ve had a wonderful run at South Umpqua.”
Shalyn Gray says playing high school volleyball for her mother has been a rewarding experience.
“Even though she’s my mom, she’s my coach on the court,” Shalyn Gray said. “Our relationship has gotten tighter because we both love the sport of volleyball. Now we share it together. It’s been good ... she knows when to be my coach and when to be my mom.”
Whitmore added, “Sarah’s fun to play for. She’s very intense, like her daughter. She wants to win and prepares us for that.”
The individual numbers this season for Shalyn Gray and Whitmore are comparable.
Shalyn Gray is averaging 11.3 kills and 18.5 digs per match and has a 54% perfect pass (serve-receive) rate. Whitmore averages 10.5 kills, 12.7 digs and 2 blocks and owns a 33% perfect pass rate.
Shalyn Gray, a three-sport athlete, could be considered one of the best all-around female athletes in South Umpqua history. She was a first-team all-state shortstop for the softball team that advanced to the state semifinals last season and was a second-team all-league selection for the basketball team.
She’s following in her family’s footsteps. Sarah and Danny Gray, Shalyn’s father, were multi-sport athletes for the Lancers. Danny graduated in 1992 and Sarah, who was Sarah Taylor in high school, finished in 1995.
Cody Gray, Shalyn’s older brother, starred for the Lancers in three sports before graduating in 2017.
“I have no regrets,” Shalyn Gray said. “I love all three sports, so it’s always fun doing it. I won’t get tired of a sport because it’s a different season every year. It’s definitely hard because you miss classes a lot, especially in softball. Otherwise, it’s been rewarding in the end.
“I’d say my (No. 1) sport is volleyball, but softball is very close.”
There aren’t many three-sport athletes left at the high school level in this era of specialization.
“Danny and I have encouraged our kids to play as many sports as they can,” Sarah Gray said. “When one sport ends, we’re really looking forward to the start of the new one. Our kids are interested in that and like to play multiple sports. In the off-season they can pick whatever sport they’d like to play during the summer.”
Sarah Gray concedes her daughter is more athletic than she was.
“I would say we are both hard workers and scrappy players,” Sarah said. “She’s taller than me. She’s very competitive, but I was probably meaner.”
Whitmore, the daughter of John and Robin Whitmore, plays volleyball year-around. She’s planning to play in college.
“I started doing club volleyball in sixth grade,” Whitmore said. “I stopped playing basketball. I kept playing softball, then I quit softball and started doing volleyball all the time.
“I just think it’s more faster paced, more of a team sport to me. It’s not as physical, too. There’s a net between me and the other team.”
“Jenna has great volleyball skills and works hard every day to get better,” Sarah Gray said.
Shalyn Gray and Whitmore also excel in the classroom. Shalyn Gray carries a 4.21 grade-point average and Whitmore has a 3.5 GPA.
Shalyn’s favorite subject is math. Jenna likes science and music.
When asked about balancing school and sports, Shalyn Gray replied, “It takes a lot of time, I know that. After practice, some days I have three hours of homework — usually that’s on the weekends. I usually don’t have a seventh period and I come home from school and get as much done as I can before practice, and after practice I finish it.”