If the Hillsdale Academy Colts volleyball team was running for public office I would probably dive into the minefield of political campaigning for the first time in my life.
They’ve got all the makings of a good candidate — power (Grace Leutheuser), savvy (Heather Lantis) and experience (five seniors) — and after some upsets in the primary’s (see North Adams-Jerome and Lenawee Christian who they left in the dust) they are primed for a serious run at the jugular.
The reason I would endorse this Colts team though, has less to do with what they’ve accomplished, and more to do with how they got there.
They’ve done hardly any politicking (they’ve walked the walk, minus the talk) and they value unity, continual progress and giving glory to God above all else.
As a conservative Christian who encounters plenty of the “me-first” attitudes that litter all levels of sports, it is refreshing to see a program built on integrity and selflessness, an all too unusual blueprint for success.
Consider this. When first-year Academy head coach Katherine Jones took over the reigns of a program led to prosperity by the seemingly irreplaceable Matt Miller, she never vowed to be him and she dodged questions about how many wins or how many trophies it would take to justify a good year in 2009.
Instead she encouraged the team to get warm-up T-shirts with a motivational Bible verse on the back and she made an effort to explain how good attitudes reap greater rewards than sheer talent the first time I spoke with her.
She didn’t size up her starting lineup the minute she walked in, she didn’t make bold predictions to put pressure on her girls — instead she set up a movie night that set the tone for things to come.
The team watched “Facing the Giants”, a drama about a Christian high school football coach who uses his undying faith to battle the giants of fear and failure. The movie demonstrates how to live with faith, hope and love no matter what the circumstances are.
While some ideals or company lines are just masks to look better in the public spotlight, the mindset that “with God all things are possible” is something that has transformed the team.
Just ask senior Grace Leutheuser.
“Last year we kind of struggled with keeping a positive attitude and we decided at the beginning of the season that we really just had to focus on giving the glory to God,” she said after upsetting No. 2 Lenawee Christian Saturday. “We watched (that movie) together and we loved it because in good times and bad you’ve got to give God the glory and we really tried to do that this season. We prayed before every game and I think that made the difference because we had such a better attitude than we did last year, where all the pressure was on you.”
Now the pressure is on the team as a whole, and they not only take criticism together, they also deflect praise, emphasizing “we” instead of “I”.
Collaboration over a single shining star gets my vote every time, and apparently senior Laura Wonders is on the same page.
After a dominating defensive performance by her that frustrated the Cougars all afternoon Saturday, she offered several snippets of wisdom.
“We’re just so team oriented so being able to perform for my team as an individual is an awesome feeling, so when I come through with that kill I’m just like ‘Yes, thank you Heather for that great set.’
It’s just awesome to be able to come through for your team…it’s so nice just to be able to influence my team with my play and not just my words.”
Wonders was forced to sit out much of basketball season last year with a nagging foot injury and the constant smile on her face is apparently about more than just being a lone knight.
The final character trait that puts this Colts team above the rest of their running mates is the headway they’ve made in a short of amount of time.
Late in the season the Academy lost twice to North Adams-Jerome at a weekend tournament, but two weeks later they swept them in a doubleheader to win the league crown; Lenawee Christian took it to them less than two months ago, but last weekend they made crucial adjustments and played like losing wasn’t an option.
Jones is big on using film to determine opponent’s tendencies and she isn’t afraid to make changes from match to match.
What she stays true to is her motivational philosophies and training techniques, ideals the entire Academy community should be proud of.
The 2009 edition of the Colts volleyball team is amply prepared every time they step into the public eye and they are the kind of feel-good story that should warm people’s hearts.
They aren’t looking for communal praise or accolades, but I for one will give them my full vote of confidence.
This team is for real and they’re not afraid to prove it, on the court and in their lives.