In her first year as coach of Randall Middle School’s boys’ volleyball team, Jessica Todd carried the young group of boys to the program’s first county championship with an undefeated season.
Todd was tasked with building the team from the ground up. The experienced starters had graduated and many of the new athletes who were trying out didn’t know the basics of volleyball. So, she picked her team based on character.
“There were so many of the boys who had a great attitude, or they showed some amount of aptitude,” Todd said.
One athlete, she said, made the cut because he went out of his way to thank her after tryouts.
“Those are the kinds of people you want on the team,” Todd said of the athlete, who she said continued to thank her after every practice.
Still, attitude wasn’t the sole factor in the Hawks’ success. Todd, a former volleyball player and coach, focused on the fundamentals of the game. This emphasis on foundational skills, she said, allowed her team to successfully execute game-winning volleys.
The team bonded during practices through the guidance of Todd. While practices centered around learning skills, Todd made sure to give the boys time to play volleyball, engage with each other and simply have fun.
One of the most exciting volleys of the season came during the championship tournament. One point from winning the county championship, the boys rallied for a 15-touch, 30-second volley to win the match.
“One of our guys spiked the ball, got that final point and collapsed out of sheer joy, out of exhaustion from playing three hard fought sets. … It was amazing to be a part of it,” Todd said.
Her end-of-the-season celebration for the newly crowned county champions was a catered meal from Outback Steakhouse.
“I had each boy share with me their favorite or most memorable moment of the season, so that was kind of a nice, fun reflection period that we had,” Todd said.
To make the meal even more special, Todd purchased individual trophies for each athlete out of her own pocket to give them a memento of the memorable season.
“They fought very hard,” Todd said. “… They played with so much heart.”