Life goes on for Wolf Pack recruits who lost senior seasons


Loyola commit Stephen Still plays the field in one of the final games of his high school career. Courtesy of Dunham Athletics.

Brendan Heffernan

After six years of being on the same team, Wolf Pack volleyball recruit Emily Sheperis wasn’t sure if she’d see some of her best friends ever again.

“I’ve seen these girls grow up.” said Sheperis, “We went from being thirteen year olds and not being able to play, to us all going to college for it.”

Sheperis, a 2019 all-Jacksonville selection, played club volleyball for the Jacksonville Juniors Volleyball Association. The team was preparing for their final opportunity to qualify for the national championship when she learned that the remainder of JJVA’s practices and games had been cancelled amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

“I miss those girls, I wanted a final goodbye because I live about an hour away from club.” she said, “I don’t live near them, I don’t go to school with them. We just don’t live close to each other so that’s pretty much my last time seeing them, unless we all hangout together. It was emotional because those were my best friends and I really enjoyed going (to practices) four days a week. I liked being around them and I liked playing volleyball and that got taken away, and it’s been kind of lonely.”

Luckily for Sheperis two of her JJVA teammates will be joining her in New Orleans, including one close friend she shares quite a bit in common with.

“It’s a funny story, one of my close friends Emily, she’s probably 6’2” and I’m 6’1”, so we’re both tall girls, but she’s blonde and I’m brunette so, you know, Emily and Emily.”

The two Emilys met Wolf Pack head volleyball coach Jesse Zabal when she coached the pair in an international volleyball tournament in Greece.

“On that trip Jesse liked her and I, and me and Emily were like ‘I don’t know’. Then we went and visited (Loyola) together and decided that it was a good fit for us” said Sheperis.

Sheperis is waiting out the quarantine with her mother and brother, and like many other student athletes she’s needed to adapt her workouts to fit the demands of quarantine. Coach Zabal explained that while Loyola’s strength coach has developed at home workouts for the current volleyball players, she needed to wait until the summer to do the same for her incoming freshmen.

“Right now, rules wise we really shouldn’t be mandating anything teamwise from them,” said Zabal, “So a lot of it is just checking in and keeping them connected. Then getting them into our team calls once the summer starts just so our current players can meet them virtually and start getting to know them before we hopefully get started in the fall.”

Sheperis said she’s needed to get creative in order to prepare for her freshman season in a world without gyms and volleyball courts

“Honestly, it’s been super hard. Volleyball is a team sport, you can’t really pepper with one person, and I can’t pepper with my mom because that just ain’t gon work.” Sheperis said with a laugh.

“I don’t have weights at home so I’ll either make my own weights or use body weight with more reps.” Sheperis said, “There’s squats, squat jumps, box jumps, just keeping my legs alive because that’s important. I’ll run a mile but ill sprint for 20 second (intervals) because I know if I just sprint I’m not going to like that. Then for arms I use cans, cans that are in my cabinet. I have very weak arms so those are heavy.”

Another Wolf Pack recruit who had to adapt quickly after seeing their high school career cut short is baseball player Stephen Still. Still, a pitcher and a Baton Rouge native, remembers his final games as a high school athlete.

“We had played 11 games, we were 10-1, we were having a great start to the season. We’re a small 2A school and we had beaten 3 or 4 big 5A schools” said Still.

Still’s Dunham tigers had beaten the defending 2A state champions the weekend before and were on their way to a road matchup against rival and defending division III state champ Shreveport Calvary Baptist. Still recalls dealing with a back injury before the game but choosing to battle through it.

“My head coach asked me like 10 times if I was good to pitch.” said Still “(Calvary Baptist) were going to come down to Baton Rouge and play us on Saturday and he was like ‘Hey, if you want we can wait and rest you for another two days and you pitch Saturday’ and I was like ‘No,no, no, no, I’m good’ because I had a feeling that they weren’t going to come down and play us and we weren’t going to be playing games much longer.”

“We drove up five hours to play a double header and right before the game we heard that Northwestern State had cancelled their baseball season, so we were kind of anticipating that this was going to be our last game.” said Still, “We won the first game 5-2 then we played them right after and beat them 11-5, its big, and their pitcher is committed to LSUE and he throws like low 90s. He’s always been a top prospect that we’ve always known that we’ve had to play our A-game to beat.”

Still recently committed to Loyola and despite the disappointing end to his senior season he is looking forward to making his debut in maroon and gold.

“Coach Bruce, he’s the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, he called me and he wanted to get me on campus as soon as possible.” he said, “I could tell I was a top priority to him. I came down about a week later and he showed me around the whole campus, he knew what he was talking about and seemed very relatable. We went and toured the baseball training facility at Big Easy and then we went to the baseball field and I think me and my dad caught up talking to him just standing on the field talking to him. I just left feeling like ‘Wow, I really enjoyed that.’”

Still says his high school has done a lot to honor the athletes and students who’ve had their senior years cut short, including throwing a parade for the senior athletes.

“Most of the baseball players drive trucks, and like my dad has one, so everybody was in their truck bed sitting and they had people line up on the other side of the neighborhood and everyone drove through honking and waving and stuff.” said Still, “It was really cool.”