Photo courtesy UTEP Athletics
UTEP Volleyball is under new direction with first-year head coach Ben Wallis. During the offseason, he was hard at work to reshape the roster in preparation for the 2019 season.
As the commits rolled in it became apparent that Wallis wanted to keep the hometown talent within the city limits, adding six El Paso natives to the squad.
“We want the best players in the city on our team competing and contributing,” Wallis explained. “We want people to feel connected to the players.”
Jessica Landeros (Chapin HS), Priscilla Sanchez (El Paso HS), Sofia Sifuentes (Coronado HS), Sophia Chacon (Franklin HS), Abigail Padilla (Coronado HS), and Emily Perez (El Paso HS) would all be joining the inaugural recruiting class of Wallis. They would also be teaming up with Briana Arellano (Canutillo HS) and Erika Sianez (El Paso HS), seniors on this year’s team, bringing the total number of hometown players to eight.
For these eight student-athletes they are realizing a dream they have had since they were little girls watching the Orange and Blue in Memorial Gym.
“To me, it’s a dream come true,” Sianez said. “Ever since I was a little girl playing club volleyball here in El Paso. That was the one thing I wanted to do.”
“When I was little I looked up to these players,” Sanchez remarked. “I can’t believe I am actually in this position.”
Living a childhood dream is something that only few get to realize. However, the place these eight have called home for their entire lives dealt with a nightmare rather than a dream on Aug. 3 of this year.
Nearly a month ago one of the safest cities in the United States witnessed one of the deadliest mass shootings on record. In its wake came the “El Paso Strong” movement. The movement has brought to the forefront already existing themes that the city values as foundations for its culture. Family, unity and always having each other’s backs are emphasized daily.
“El Paso Strong represents unity,” Sifuentes explained. “After the events that happened we all came together as one, and treated each other like family.”
“To me, it means family,” Chacon said. “The city of El Paso is always unified, and we are always together in everything we do. The events that happened recently brought us together, and showed that we will always have each other’s backs.”
The way this community has persevered is no surprise to Arellano as she explained, “When tragedy strikes, we come together.”
These eight are not just here to help begin the Wallis era at UTEP. They are here to inspire the next generation of El Paso volleyball and to be the embodiment of El Paso Strong in the community, on the court and in the classroom.