#18 PRCC Volleyball earns first national ranking in third season

On Saturday, the Vancleave volleyball program won its fifth consecutive state championship simply adding to the legacy started by Haley Chatham, who led the Lady Bulldogs to their first two crowns.

Just a few days prior, the now Pearl River Community College head coach made history again as a part of the first Lady Wildcats team to ever crack the NJCAA national rankings.

Outside hitter Leah Draine said, “I found out through a text message.”

Middle Blocker Diamond Jones said, “Coach texted us because she wasn’t around us. Mind you, we’ve been waiting for like a month now. So, like every month we go on the web site and it’s like Receiving Votes, Pearl River. So, we got a message from her, and sometimes it’s like do I open it? Are we about to have an early practice? What is she sending? We open it, and I’m pretty sure we all stood there in shock because we just made history.”

Three years in the making, Pearl River Community College checking in as the 19th-ranked NJCAA Division II volleyball program. Head Coach Haley Chatham said, “To be honest, I didn’t ever expect to be this thrilled about being 19 in anything. But this one, it’s super special.”

Another week down, another three wins for the Lady Wildcats, progressing their steady climb up to number 18.

And here’s the thing, they’re still winning, having closed out the regular season on Wednesday with another three consecutive wins, now 16 in a row with an overall record of 27-3. Setter/ Opposite Hitter Avery Durdin said, “The things going on here are awesome, like really amazing, really heartwarming, watching everything go down and watching this program grow constantly.”

Outside hitter Chloe Paske said, “Volleyball on the Coast is a new thing, and to have this type of ranking and respect is super big for us, and it’s just good to see volleyball getting bigger around this part of Mississippi.”

In 2019, PRCC became the first junior college in the magnolia state to sponsor volleyball. One year later, Itawamba and Northwest Mississippi followed suit.

But the Lady Wildcats certainly had their fair share of growing pains, going just 9-16 in year one and then 16-10 in year two. “It’s just crazy, like being on campus that first semester here and people being like oh, we have a volleyball team? To going in the cafeteria and people be like, when do y’all play again?”

“With me being the OG of the group, I’ve seen it come from nothing to something. We really started from the bottom, and we really didn’t have that connection how we have now. The girls that have been together have been together for some years, and me and Diamond have been together since kind of the second semester of the first program, so it’s really grown a lot and the connection and chemistry has been there.”

The glue holding it all together is Head Coach Haley Chatham. “We all came in great players. We were all of our high schools MVP’s. We all came in with a lot of potential, but she pushes you beyond that expectation.”

“Some coaches would kind of knock that, like being a motherly figure to them. But I enjoy it. They are like my children, and I love them. They know that. I love them and I can be up front with them because of that, too. I enjoy taking care of them. They do a lot of hard things for this program, so anything I can do to make it easier for them, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Chatham’s winning reputation precedes her in volleyball circles throughout the state especially on the Gulf Coast where eight of the team’s 14 players call home.

Of those eight Coasties, four hailing from, where else, Vancleave High School, including her own daughter Hannah Burks.

Now finding that same championship level success all over again with a program — and family — that’s quickly becoming one of the best in the country although still not immune to the soon-to-be bittersweet reality. “It’s great. It’s more than I could’ve imagined. It was hard because I told them bye one time and left them, and I just didn’t think that far into the future to realize that I’d have to tell them bye again. But here I am about to have to do it again. But it’s been amazing.”

You heard from St. Martin alum Chloe Paske. As for the other Coast players, Emma Bahr and Allison Carpenter from Ocean Springs, Jasmine Burdine from Biloxi, and then the Vancleave four of Hannah Burks, Payton McKerchie, Julianah Overstreet, and Sydney Salter.

Next up for the Lady Wildcats is hosting the Region 23 Tournament. Winner goes to the Gulf District playoffs at Florida Gateway College and the winner of that goes to nationals.