One of the Top 10 best reasons for being a journalist is getting a front row seat to witness history.
That doesn’t always mean a once-in-a-lifetime event that occurs in a flash. Sometimes it’s being able to see something start from next to nothing and evolve into something great, while learning and appreciating the process.
That’s what is so amazing about this year’s Tyler Junior College volleyball team — an example of any athletic team that begins the season somewhat disorganized and inexperienced and becomes a national contender at the end.
For a coach the process itself is nothing new, since it is his or her job to shape and mold a team. Starting fresh could happen nearly every year for a junior college team, depending upon the rate of graduation.
But some fans just recognize the results — the wins, the losses. A true sports fan appreciates the importance of all the elements, how they must work together, and the people who make it happen.
The Apache Ladies began the season with only four returning sophomores and a dozen freshmen — players just out of high school.
The newbie’s appeared timid, unsure, and certainly somewhat overwhelmed by a higher level of expectations both on and off the court. The sophomores found themselves in leadership roles as well as learning how to acclimate to a new team dynamic.
Add coach Ronda Shirley, who is in the third season at the helm of a volleyball program that has had only one other coach in its 16-year history. The process for her has been a bit longer, working to turnaround a 17-22 team record from her first season.
I saw a scrappy team struggle through its first tournament in early August — the Apache Ladies came out undefeated, but they still looked a little rough.
After a four-game schedule on the road, I saw quite a different team play Paris Junior College at home in September — much more cohesiveness, more drive, more confidence and more polish.
The team finished the regular season undefeated in conference play and headed to the regional tournament with confidence. The Apache Ladies proved to be a contender, winning one of two spots to the national tournament. Although the team did not win the regional title, the Apache Ladies did win a match against San Jacinto, the No. 1-ranked NJCAA Div. 1 team in the nation — something only one other team has accomplished so far this season.
And now at the beginning of November, the team finds itself preparing for a trip to the NJCAA national tournament for only the second time in the program’s history.
TJC earned a trip in 2002, but the team was ousted after losing its first two games.
This season’s success didn’t happen by accident.
It took a lot of sweat from long workouts.
It took learning from the mistakes.
It took acceptance of constructive criticism even though it didn’t seem constructive at the time.
It took trusting the coaches and fellow players.
It took support from the fans.
It took dedication from the players as well as the coaches and trainers.
It took having confidence from the players themselves to do their best.
It took passion for the game.
The Apache Ladies take all of this next week to the national tournament. Of course the goal is to win it all, but sometimes winning is more than just a score.
Win or lose, this team made history.