After successful coaching stints in the Birmingham, Alabama area for 26 years, Lissa Walker is returning to her mother’s hometown to take the reins as Port St. Joe’s softball and volleyball coach.
Walker’s mother “grew up here, and moved away when she got married, then moved back after my father passed” four or five years ago, said the new coach,
Although her official start date will be August 2, Walker met with players and parents on July 20 at an organizational meeting.
Walker will be teaching physical education and Hope classes in addition to her coaching duties.
“It will be a full schedule, but easier than where I’m coming from,” she said. While coaching at Vestavia Hills High School she taught phys ed at Liberty Park Elementary, where after “12 classes, I went straight to softball practice.”
A graduate of Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama, Walker got her first position at Hueytown High School in 1995 as head coach of both the volleyball and the softball programs.
Although no total volleyball records are available, her final season ended with 47 wins and only 14 losses. Her teams claimed area titles in 1999, 2002 and 2003.
Hueytown softball brought home significantly greater accolades under her guidance, earning trips to the state tournament in 14 of her 16 years there. Her Golden Gophers finished in the Elite 8 six times; the Final Four three times; and state championships in 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010.
An unexpected phone call from a rival high school led to Walker’s resignation from Hueytown in June 2011, to take the vacant softball coaching job at Vestavia Hills. Although a few other inquiries had been made during her successful time at Hueytown, Walker felt that “it was the right time.”
For the next 10 seasons, the Rebels of Vestavia Hills won four area titles against such competition as Hoover, Thompson, and Tuscaloosa High in tough 7-A play.
Adding that “every day was a rival,” Walker said that “Hoover was the big, big rival, probably like Wewa for St. Joe. If we could beat Hoover, that made the season.”
Twice getting into the Final Four (2012 and 2016), Walker’s last squad made it to the Elite Eight in 2021 prior to her being selected as the 2021 All-South Metro Coach of the Year.
Her record after 26 years of coaching softball is an impressive 696-281, a 71 percent winning pace.
One of her first priorities in establishing her presence here involves “getting (the players) to believe in my process and what I believe in and how I coach.
“At first, you’ve got to get the team to buy in, and you’ve got to get them to trust you,” she said.
Walker emphasized that there “will be a lot of trust-building and a lot of talks.” Part of her job is to “get them on the same page I’m on.”
After “26 years in the Birmingham area, down here it will be a little bit different. I came from two very competitive programs (and) we want St. Joe to be competitive.” Walker believes “it’s going to be a two-to-three-year process, just getting the right things in place, the right kids in place, and the right philosophy in place.”
As for her coaching philosophy, Walker said that “I’ve had a very successful career. I’ve been blessed with a lot of good kids (and) one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is you’ve got to coach them hard, but you’ve got to love them harder.”
“I’m a tough coach. Kids will say I’m tough to play for, but they know I love them at the same time. I’m going to be your friend, but I’ll be your coach first, (and) I’m going to let them know I’m there for you,” she said,
Regardless of which sport she coaches, Walker added that “coming in as a new coach, the first thing that you really have to do is to get the kids to trust you. When you lose one coach that you’re familiar with and the new coach comes in, you’ve got to get used to them and they’ve got to get used to you.”
“No coach coaches the same,” Walker said. “With volleyball it’s going to be a year of learning them, they learning me, and just kind of developing that trust.”
Trust is a quality that the Port St. Joe administration already has for Walker. Shark principal Sissy Godwin, who was part of the interview and selection committee, said that besides coming here with “lots of experience and a great record, she is very professional and cares about developing the student-athlete as a whole – their character and their responsibility in addition to the skills” of the sport.
Of the expectations put upon her, Walker said “one thing they talked about in the interview was wanting to be competitive.” More important at first than wins and losses was that she “make sure people know who St. Joe is, especially in softball.”
“I’m excited to get in there and start,” said the veteran coach. “To start working with the girls and building the program and getting it where it needs to be. It’s a good challenge.”
“At the interview,” said Godwin, “it was very clear (Walker) wanted to make sure that she would be the right fit,” and that Port St. Joe was right for her.
Based on her history of success and her emphasis on developing “the core” of the student-athlete, Coach Lissa Walker would appear to be the right fit for Port St. Joe.
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