Zuri Berry: Falcons fight through adversity for title
Reconciliation. Adversity. Perseverance.
Forest Lake Christian’s girls volleyball season has defined the aforementioned words in a nutshell. And by the strength of unity, trust and talent, the Falcons have powered their way into the playoffs as co-champions of the Central Valley Christian League.
And their story is one I am glad to tell because of the exceptional highs and lows the team has faced.
Let me explain.
Only one week after tryouts, Falcons new coach Susan Carlsen re-injured her back.
The cause of injury? Carlsen had a pre-existing condition with spinal fusion. The physical toll of moving to the area as a single mother of three and practicing with the girls had a compound affect on Carlsen.
“Before I knew it, I found myself on my back,” Carlsen said. “It was a very hard decision to leave. (But) I couldn’t risk losing my job as a P.E. teacher.”
The coach really had no choice. It was a matter of her health, personal well-being and the welfare of her family she has to support. She left the team before its first Central Valley Christian League game. She still follows along, attending sporadic games and takes visits from her former players.
What’s more, the girls understand.
“From the beginning, it was kind of rocky,” said senior Bethany Huusfeldt. “At first, it was a little confusing. She had back problems. She was hurt and she couldn’t do much. But we all realized she was hurt and she needed a break.”
With Carlsen resigning, the infant season was in jeopardy of being canceled. Strangely, the Falcons had dealt with this before. Last year, Travis Smith took over the team after its newly-hired coach backed out days before tryouts started. This year, Laura Allred came to the team’s rescue.
Allred was brought into the Falcons mix as an assistant for Carlsen. When Carlsen resigned, she wasn’t sure if she was the right person to take over the gig. She had no coaching experience and wasn’t sure if she could make the time commitment.
“I wasn’t saying ‘me, me, me,’ ” Allred said of her coaching aspirations. ” I told the girls, whoever they select for the new coach, I’ll be there. Pray for who God wants and pray for the season.”
As a recreation softball player, a mother and a law student herself, Allred had much to consider before she did anything. But when she made it known to school officials that she wanted to take part, they asked her if she wanted the reigns.
Allred asked one person if it was OK: Her son Jesse, a soccer player at the school.
“With all of the traveling and driving to games, I was going to miss all of his games,” Allred said. “So I asked him if it was OK. He said, ‘whatever you want mom.’ “
With the blessing of her family and some freed up time, Allred tackled the nuances of coaching a varsity program in need of a leader.
“Laura Allred has done a fantastic job,” Carlsen said. “She’s an immense lady having to jump in cold turkey like that.”
Said setter Jen Menary: “As a team, we kind of froze (when Carlsen resigned) and didn’t really know what to do. We did have a coach and we didn’t.
Mrs. Allred was a complete savior.”
The Falcons responded by mowing through their season-long schedule, turning in an impressive 8-2 record in CVCL play, 15-9 overall.
It’s safe to say, when Allred took over the team everything was right with the girls and in a sense the familiarity and continuity of having her proved as a marker for a reconciled season. But it wasn’t enough yet to bear a successful season. The girls had to go through adversity.
On Sept. 25, 16 matches into the year and two into the regular season, the Falcons dropped three straight games to CVCL power Woodland Christian in a heartbreaking loss. It shook up the positive vibe of the Falcons’ season.
“We thought that blew our chances and we weren’t going to get into the playoffs,” Menary said.
It’s in these moments that the Falcons looked inside themselves and figured out what kind of team they would be.
“I think everyone felt that (we needed to work harder) and pushed as hard as we could,” Menary said. “We should all be proud of ourselves. Mrs. Allred has carried us and the spirit of our school is right there behind us.”
The Falcons lost only one more game from then on, a 3-2 clincher to co-league champions Vacaville (11-3 overall, 6-2 CVCL). And when FLC faced Woodland again Friday Oct. 12, they avenged their loss with a 3-0 victory. It’s just after the match the team’s resilience was tested again.
Senior Teresa Reed, a middle hitter for the team, got into a car accident late night after the match. Driving in the rain down Hwy. 49, her tires lost traction going down one of the highway’s many winding turns. As the tires lost traction, the car moved into the oncoming lane hitting an ambulance head on. The ambulance driver suffered three broken ribs and a broken arm. Reed, amazingly, only needed stitches in her knee after bruises from the accident.
“Miraculously, I am OK,” Reed said. “Emotionally, it was tough to just grasp what happened. When something like that happens to you and you walk away from it … it’s really eye opening and you kind of feel numb. I had to realize I went through a traumatic event and emotionally I’m recovering from that.”
In the hours after the accident, only a few of the players knew what had happened. Most didn’t find out till Monday.
“That kind of froze us again,” Menary said. “We kind of came together as a team and visited her and prayed for her.”
And in that sense, the Falcons have supported each other, persevered through tough times and have excelled when the odds were stacked against them. When they step on their home court Nov. 6 for their first playoff match, I’d say it’s worthy of an applause. Because while Reed’s health and safety is “miraculous” right now, their season has been filled with little miracles that continue to make me smile.
Zuri Berry is a sports writer at The Union. His columns appear Wednesdays. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4244.
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The 2021 High School Optimist All Star teams for baseball, softball and boys volleyball have been announced, and several local student-athletes made the cut.