By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
If female lifeguards in Atlantic and Cape May counties are smart, they won’t make the same mistake the Egg Harbor Township High School girls basketball team made in 2008: underestimating Alissa Lamey.
Lamey, a former point guard at Mainland Regional who graduated in 2008, torched the Eagles with five 3-pointers on her way to a career-high 17 points during a game that year. A 4-year varsity player in basketball and track during her high school career, the now 23-year-old Northfield resident went on to set the career assists record (435) for the Rowan University women’s basketball team before graduating in December 2012 with a degree in physical education. Now a substitute teacher and assistant basketball and track coach at Mainland, Lamey is in her second year as a lifeguard in Sea Isle City and is fired up for the lifeguard competition season, which began this weekend and runs through mid-august.
Lamey’s first competition will be on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Longport women’s race, and she said she is eager to feel the competitive juices flowing again. Lamey competes in the surf dash event, which is a 4-person relay race with the life-saving torpedo, as her main event.
“I always just have that competitive edge. It’s still just like stepping up to the line at a track race, my heart still pounds and I still get nervous. I don’t want to talk to anybody before the race,” Lamey said. “It’s pretty cool to be still be able to compete when I’m not in college anymore.
“I don’t know if (my competitive fire) is ever going to burn out. I don’t think it will.”
“I think it’s awesome for her because she is so competitive. She loves working out and staying in shape, so it’s motivation for her to keep working out and keep winning at things,” said her sister, Kelli.
Dave Stearne, a Sea Isle City lifeguard lieutenant, has been so impressed with Lamey that he made her an instructor for rookie lifeguards despite the fact that she is only in her second year. And last year, when Lamey was a rookie herself, he made her an instructor of the junior lifeguard program (14- to 17-year-olds), which he said is almost unheard of.
“It is very rare for rookies to emerge as leaders and instructors in their first year,” Stearne said. “That almost never happens. The reason I did that is because she is very mature and does a really good job of separating friendships with the task at hand and that’s very important to me. I usually put guards with six or seven years of experience on those jobs.
“As for competition, she is our No. 1 surf dasher right now. She is really athletic. She is my leadoff leg because she’s got a great game face, and you need that in a leadoff leg. She really does set the tone, and that’s what you want in a leadoff. She’ll be great. She’s going to dominate in the surf dash.”
Lamey’s competitive flame was lit the moment she was born into an athletic family. Her father, John, played baseball and football at Mainland Regional before graduating in 1976, and as the youngest of three girls, Alissa always was fighting for attention, as well as to try to beat older sisters Corey and Kelli at sports. Kelli, 29, played basketball, field hockey and softball at Mainland and Corey, 27, played two years of basketball before concentrating more on track and winter track. Her cousin, Miranda Lamey, 18, helped lead the Mainland girls lacrosse team to its most successful season ever (16-3) this spring before graduating in June.
“I’m very competitive so I wanted to make a name for myself to get people’s attention. I always tried to give my best, and if I’m giving my best something good will come out of it,” Alissa said. “When I was growing up I wanted to be just like my sisters. They were athletes and I wanted to be an athlete. My dad, also. I looked up to him. He was a good high school athlete and he would always take me out in the backyard and play 1-on-1.”
“(John) and I coached all three of the girls when they were growing up and because we put the time in I think they took it a little more to heart,” said Alissa’s mother, Holly, a 1977 Mainland graduate. “I think that’s one of the reasons not one of them ever took a dance lesson. I pretty much just gave them a ball and let them go with it.”
Having that drive to be the best in her own family from an early age paid dividends as Alissa advanced through the high school and collegiate ranks. Aside from being Rowan’s all-time assists leader, she also competed in the Cape-Atlantic League’s basketball all-star game as a high school senior and during her track career won a county hurdling title as a junior and as a senior was part of the 4×400-meter relay team that set a school record and earned a trip to the Meet of Champions.
“My junior year I won counties for the 400 hurdles, and that was really cool. I was really excited about that. That is something I’m definitely going to remember for the rest of my life, being a county champion at something,” Alissa said.
“I think a big part of it is, she really didn’t have a choice because that’s what we did. If she wanted to play with us, she had to play basketball,” said Kelli, a fourth-grade teacher in Egg Harbor Township. “We would hold the ball over her head and say, ‘if you can grab it, you can play with us.’ She never stopped trying to get that ball so she could play.”
It was basketball that helped Alissa get into college, where she earned a degree, naturally, in physical education this past December.
“I actually was kind of better at track, but I enjoyed playing basketball. I was kind of quiet in high school. Some games I would score and some games I wouldn’t. Then Rowan showed interested in me and I was pretty excited,” Alissa said. “My family is very involved in all of our sports. I wanted them to be able to come to games, so Rowan was my first pick.”
Alissa is not the type of athlete who gets caught up in her own accomplishments, so it came as quite a shock to her that she set a record at Rowan.
“I didn’t even know I was close. I was reading one of the articles after a game and in the middle of the article it said ‘Alissa Lamey broke the assist record today’ and I was like, ‘oh, my God, I did? No Way!’ It was cool because I was out to dinner with my family and when I found out they found out,” Alissa said.
“Not only am I proud, but I’m impressed with her. Players who are 5-foot-6 are a dime a dozen in college basketball, but she has such tenacity and I think that is what helped her get that record,” Holly said.
She’s not one to brag, so many of the basketball players she coaches now don’t really have an idea of how good she was in high school and college.
“I don’t tell them much, but when I play against them, they understand,” she said with a smile.
Born to coach
Coaching is a natural fit for Alissa, who has never avoided the opportunity to be a leader.
“I’m very strong-headed, so when I got to be the leader of the team I felt at home,” Alissa said about her growth as a high school athlete. “I was ready to help people younger than me learn and teach them what I had learned throughout the course of my high school career. I just love to see people get the best out of their experience. I definitely did.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to like being on the other side, but it’s still cool to be part of a team and since I really enjoyed being a leader anyway, it was kind of a natural transition.”
Although she might not have much coaching experience, Alissa’s philosophy is to listen to her players and try to impress upon them the importance of controlling what they can control on the court and letting the rest take care of itself.
“I usually butt heads with people who are the most like me because they have their own way of thinking and they want to be up front and have their say, which is a good thing. I don’t mind that. Your players are playing, and if they see something that you don’t, why not have their input in the back of your mind?” Alissa said. “A lot of them get very wrapped up in things they can’t control, like the referees or if someone is not throwing them the ball. The advice I give them is to worry about what you can control. You can control if you’re going to run and get that loose ball. You can control if you’re going to box somebody out. That’s where I try to put their heads at to keep them focused on the game.”
Holly Lamey said that her daughter’s work ethic and attitude have certainly made an impression on the Mainland basketball program.
“She’s very encouraging. She doesn’t beat them down, she’s always encouraging her players and I think they really responded to her,” Holly said.
Not far removed from the winner-take-all mentality of collegiate sports, Alissa said she is enjoying getting back to her roots of high school athletics, where pep rallies and pasta parties are a key part of an athlete’s development and learning how to be a good teammate is just as important as hitting a game-winning shot.
“They are all about pasta parties and making T-shirts and all that stuff, which I’m all for. It’s very important to bond with your teammates,” Alissa said. “If you don’t have chemistry off the court you’re not going to have it on the court.
“The coolest part (of high school sports) is you get to wear your uniform on game day, stuff like that. You pass each other in the hallways, and you want to make it known that you are on the basketball team and you have a game tonight. Stuff like that is pretty cool about high school. College is so much bigger and the majority of people don’t know you play a sport. That was the cool part about high school. ‘Oh, that’s Alissa, she plays basketball and track.’ It’s your identity.”
The here and now
Alissa is in a new stage of her life as well. As a young adult she is entering “the real world” where there are new challenges and
expectations. As an athlete, she’s also branching out, becoming a member of Sea Isle City’s lifeguard competition team and also joining the Jersey Shore Powder Puff Football League – a women’s charity flag football league based in Somers Point, which is run by Mainland Regional graduate Barbie Carney. Alissa plays, along with her two sisters, for DiOrio’s Destroyers, who were bounced from the league’s playoffs last weekend despite the best efforts of the Lamey girls.
“I love it. It’s definitely fun. It’s a great outlet for exercise and meeting new people. And everybody trash talks, so you get all the good elements (of competition),” Alissa said. “We have one person on our team, Nancy (McDevitt), and she’s older than me and she is so good. She’s like my life idol. I want to be just as fit as her when I am her age. It’s great to get to meet so many people in your community who were athletes. You hear a name, like Angie Pezzetta, and you know she was a great athlete in high school and it’s fun to meet people who were before you and now you get to play with them and against them.”
Pezzetta, a 1999 graduate of Holy Spirit High School who plays for the Ivy Rehab Warlords in the JSPPL, is perhaps the best player in the league and a former league MVP. She also is in the top 10 all-time in assists and steals for the University of Hartford women’s basketball team and was a 1,000-point scorer in high school. She also played professionally for a time in the National Women’s Basketball League, or NWBL, which operated from 1997-2007.
As for the future, Alissa said she is hoping to land a high school teaching job and continue her coaching career, and like many recent college graduates, being able to get out on her own is a top priority.
“I want to keep staying active any way I can. I don’t know if I’m ready yet to have my own varsity team, but eventually I’d like to do that,” Alissa said. “I’d also like to get my personal training license. And hopefully move out of my mom’s house! Haha. That’s definitely up on my list.”
Her mother said when that day comes, it will be bittersweet.
“I enjoy having her here, but that’s why you spend so much time raising them so they can go out on their own and be successful,” Holly said.
Lifeguard competition schedule: 7/8 6:00 Superathalon Cape May; 7/9 6:30 Longport women’s race; 7/12 6:00 North Wildwood; 7/12 6:30 Longport Memorials; 7/15 6:15 Tri-resorts Upper Twp.; 7/19 6:30 AC Classic; 7/20 10:00 a.m. Ocean City Swim; 7/22 6:00 6-mile bay race Upper Twp.; 7/24 6:15 Ocean City women’s race; 7/26 6:30 Hoffman Memorials Wildwood; 7/28 6:30 pool champ, Ocean City; 7/29 6:30 Cape May Point Women’s Challenge ; 8/2 6:30 Margate Memorials; 8/4 6:15 Avalon ; 8/7 6:30 Ventnor Women’s Race; 8/9 6:30 South Jersey championships Margate; 8/10 5:30 Sea Isle 10-mile island run; 8/10 6:45 AC memorial swim; 8/12 6:15 Rowing Championships Wildwood; 8/16 6:30 Ventnor men’s rescue races ; 8/19 7:00 a.m. Around the island row Wildwood; 8/22 6:15 Hammer Row Longport; 8/31 10:00 a.m. ACBP pageant swim.